Florida striker to face mourners this week

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (HPD) — The man responsible for the 2018 Florida school shooting, Nikolas Cruz, will be sentenced to life in prison this week, but first the families of the 17 people he killed will have a chance to tell you what they think.

A two-day hearing will begin Tuesday that will conclude when Judge Elizabeth Scherer formally sentences Cruz for the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Because the jury could not unanimously agree that the 24-year-old deserved a death sentence, the judge can only sentence the Stoneman Douglas alumnus to life in prison without parole, a result criticized by most families.

Every family of the 14 students and three staff members killed by Cruz will be able to speak, as will the 17 people he injured during the seven-minute attack. During the trial, the families gave emotional statements, but were restricted in what they could say to the jury: they could only describe their loved ones and the cost of the murders on their lives. The wounded could only say what happened to them.

They were prohibited from addressing Cruz directly or saying anything about him; a rape would have nullified the trial. And jurors were told they couldn’t consider the family’s statements as aggravating factors as they weighed whether Cruz should die.

Now, mourners will be able to speak directly to Cruz, if they wish.

“We hope that we can speak without the barriers that were placed on us,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was killed.

Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes, whose attorneys are representing Cruz, said he has no problem with families expressing anger directly at Cruz.

“Rightly so,” Weekes said. He added that the sentencing hearing “is not just an accountability process, but there are also some cathartic pieces that are going to come out of it.”

Cruz is not expected to speak, according to Weekes. He apologized in court last year after pleading guilty, but families found the apology self-serving and sympathetic.

Jurors who voted against the death penalty said Cruz is mentally ill and should be pardoned. Under Florida law, a death sentence requires unanimity.

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