Jury spares life of ‘doomed from the womb’ shooter

FORT LAUDERDALE, United States (AFP) — A United States jury has rejected the death penalty and backed life imprisonment for Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school, in a sentence that shocked and angered some relatives of the victims.

Cruz, 24, wearing a striped sweater and large glasses, stared down expressionless at the defense table as the verdict was read Thursday while the parents of several slain children shook their heads in disbelief.

The jury deliberated for a full day on Wednesday and briefly on Thursday before deciding that Cruz should receive life in prison with no chance of parole for the February 2018 murders of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

A death penalty recommendation needed to be unanimous and one or more of the 12 jurors found it was not justified because of mitigating circumstances.

“I could not be more disappointed in what happened today,” Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the Valentine’s Day attack, said.

“I’m stunned. I’m devastated,” Guttenberg said. “There are 17 victims that did not receive justice today. This jury failed our families.”

Lead prosecutor Michael Satz said Cruz, who pleaded guilty to the murders last year, carried out a “systematic massacre” and the appropriate penalty was death.

‘Brain-damaged, mentally-ill’

Melisa McNeill, a lawyer for Cruz, urged the jurors to show compassion.

McNeill said Cruz was a troubled young man born with fetal alcohol stress disorder to a mother who struggled with homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction before putting him up for adoption.

“He was doomed from the womb and in a civilized, humane society, do we kill brain-damaged, mentally ill, broken people?” McNeill asked in her closing statement. “Do we? I hope not.”

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed, said Cruz should not have been spared the death penalty just because he “had a tough time growing up.”

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