Death penalty debate sparked by Parkland school shooter’s life sentence

9 jurors recommended death penalty, 3 recommended life sentence

In 2017, the laws in Florida changed, requiring a unanimous jury to recommend the death penalty. DeSantis said he wants to challenge the law, possibly going back to majority rules.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After a jury spared school shooter Nikolas Cruz from the death penalty last Thursday and recommended a life sentence for killing 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018, it sparked a debate among Florida lawmakers.

The news that Cruz, 24, would spend life in prison without parole, instead of face death, for the murders of 14 students and three staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, was not well-received by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

[TRENDING: DeSantis calls for changes to death penalty | Much cooler air on the way to Florida | Become a News 6 Insider]

The governor said at a campaign event on Sunday that he wants to reform death penalty laws in Florida.

Backlash over the Parkland shooting penalty phase verdict is reaching the highest levels of the state.

“I am going to work with the legislature. We need to reform some of these laws. You cannot just have one holdout do that, and who knows what was going on back there, but that was a miscarriage of justice,” he said.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist agreed with his opponent, saying in part, “There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death. The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice.”

Nine of the 12 jurors voted to hand down the death penalty, but in Florida, a unanimous vote is required.

According to legal expert Steven Kramer, however, in 2020, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a unanimous verdict was not required for a death sentence.

Florida leaders expressed a mixture of emotions Thursday after a jury rejected the death penalty and recommended instead a life sentence without parole for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz for killing 17 people in 2018.

“The door is open for the state of Florida and the legislature to change the law and allow the death penalty to be imposed by a non-unanimous jury,” Kramer said.

While the option is available to lawmakers, it was not a part of the law when Cruz was sentenced.

While future changes, like requiring a speedier trial, would apply only to future death penalty cases, Kramer told News 6 that should not impact the outcome of these cases.

“It might matter to the victim’s family, but should it determine or influence the outcome of the case? It should not,” he said. “The jury should not be influenced by the news and media coverage, and it should not matter whether the case is tried five years after the crime, or a year after the crime.”

Inside a courtroom in Broward County Thursday, a jury recommended Nikolas Cruz receive life in prison instead of the death penalty for killing 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018.

One juror claims they were intimidated to vote one way during the sentencing. DeSantis and prosecutors have demanded a thorough investigation.

We asked Kramer, if investigators discover a juror was intimidated, could that get Cruz’s life sentence thrown out and retried?

He said that outcome is unlikely, but also noted that this is a such a high-profile case. People might try anything to see things go their way.

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