Sentencing for the Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz began Tuesday with victims and family members sharing their heartbreaking testimonies in court.
Last month, a jury recommended a life in prison without the possibility of parole sentencing to the gunman for the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and 3 staff members.
This was after a 3 month trial where Cruz’s defense team argued that he was mentally ill and should be spared from the death penalty despite Cruz pleading guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder.
Before the gunman is officially sentenced to life in prison, the victims and loved ones of victims get a chance to share their exact thoughts and feelings directly to the person who took their loved one away from them. During the Parkland school shooter’s penalty trial, victim impact statements were to only be directed to the jury, only allowed to describe the victims and their loss. Those limitations no longer applied as of Tuesday.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed victims and family members to speak directly to Nikolas Cruz.
Debra Hixon — the wife of athletic director Chris Hixon, a Navy veteran who died trying to stop the shooting — was the first to address the gunman, who showed no emotion from behind a face mask.
“You stole him from us, and you did not receive the justice that you deserved,” Debra Hixon said referring to the decision for a life in prison sentence over the death penalty. “There is no mitigating circumstance that will outweigh the heinous and cruel way you stole him from us.”
Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old victim Alexander Schachter, referred to Cruz as “the creature,” “that animal” and “menace.” He said Florida courts had failed the victims’ families in the sentencing. He also noted that he believed no amount of counseling would help Cruz.
“You can’t fix evil,” Schachter concluded.
Stacey Lippel, a wounded teacher, told Cruz she was “broken and altered.”
“You don’t know me, but you tried to kill me,” she told Cruz. “The person I was at 2:20 (p.m.) on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, is not the same one who stands here today. I am broken and altered, and I will never look at the world the same way again.”
Theresa Robinovitz, grandmother of Alyssa Alhadeff who was killed during the shooting looked directly at Cruz for her final message with tears in her eyes. “If killing 17 innocent people and injuring 17 more does not warrant the death penalty, what does?”
“I hope you burn in hell,” she said.
Alyssa’s grandfather also had a chance to speak. He referred to Cruz not by his name but as “Parkland murderer,” knowing in peace that one day, Cruz will inevitably die.
“At that time, Parkland murderer, it is my hope that you go somewhere to meet your maker,” Robinovitz said. “And, Parkland murderer, I hope your maker sends you directly to hell to burn for the rest of your eternity.”
Many of the victims and family members made reference to the jury verdict of life in prison, instead of the death penalty. The defense claimed that Cruz faced difficulties throughout his life, including an alcoholic birth mother.
“Since your prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, I will keep this simple for you and your IQ of 83,” said Natalie Hixon, Christopher Hixon’s sister. “You are not a victim of anything.”
Meghan Petty, whose 14-year-old sister Alaina was murdered during the shooting, said she believes the repercussions of the jury’s decision, could come at a high cost. She described Cruz as “a remorseless monster who deserves no mercy” and who has “incredible darkness” and said that she worried that every single “sick, twisted little freak” around the country will now know that any defense team who uses mental illness as a defense will try to commit these acts.
Some of the anger and hurt from victims and their families flooded over to Cruz’s defense team. Patricia Oliver, who lost her son Joaquin on that horrifying day, pointed the Cruz defense team and said, “Karma. This is what you will all face for the rest of your miserable life because you are all a team.”
Schachter echoed this sentiment and said he was disgusted at how the defense team not only defended him in court but showed physical signs of support like hugging the shooter and laughing with him during the trial.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked. “If you truly loved your children you’d never have positive feelings for such a creature. If he murdered and tortured your children I don’t think you would be hugging him and giggling with him.” He then turned to Cruz, noting that November 1 is the anniversary of the death of Linda Cruz, Nikolas’ mother.
The defense team came under so much scrutiny that lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill objected to the victims’ comments. “I did my job and every member of this team did our job,” she said, “and we should not be attacked for that, and neither should our children.” She also alluded to the fact that Judge Scherer knew that the families should not attack Cruz’s defense team, but was allowing it anyway.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer interrupted the defense attorney’s objection. “Ms. McNeill, stop suggesting that I know something is impermissible and that I am allowing it to happen. You’re finished.”
Before going into recess for the day, Tony Montalto, father of slain 14-year-old Gina Motalto, spoke to the court. In an interview prior to his statement, he told CNN that he never wants to hear from Cruz.
"The best we can hope for is that he disappears into the black hole of the corrections system," he said.
The impact statements and sentencing will continue tomorrow.