Parkland school shooter’s verdict: Factors and circumstances jury considered

A Broward County jury recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Parkland school shooter.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – About two years before the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a Florida Supreme Court decision required that capital sentencing juries unanimously agree to the death penalty before a trial judge sentenced a defendant to death. But the 2016 ruling in Hurst v. State, a Polk County trial, changed that.

On Thursday, after seven hours of deliberation, the majority of the jury wanted to recommend the death penalty and a minority wanted to show the Parkland school shooter mercy, according to the foreman. As the law stands, their disagreement meant that the death penalty was not a possibility.

The prosecution team that asked the jury to recommend the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter listed seven aggravating factors that increased the severity or culpability. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer told the jury that two of the seven only applied to Broward County Public Schools employees Christopher Hixon, Aaron Feis, and Scott Beigel, who died while trying to protect students.

Related story: Public defender reacts to verdict in Parkland school shooter’s case

Despite the sound of gunshots, Hixon and Feis rushed inside the 1200 building. Hixon was running toward Nikolas Cruz when he was shot, prosecutors said. He crawled into an alcove where Cruz shot him again. Feis had just opened the stairwell door when Cruz shot him, prosecutors said. Beigel was on the third floor. The fire alarm went off because of the dust from the ceiling tiles, investigators said. Amid the confusion, Beigel was helping students into his classroom when Cruz shot him four times.

The defense team that asked the jury to recommend a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole listed the 41 mitigating circumstances that they argued lessened Cruz’s culpability. The number was later corrected to 40 because 15 and 16 were mistakenly combined.

Scherer scheduled the sentencing hearing for Nov. 1 and agreed with the prosecution’s request to have the victim’s loved ones deliver statements.

AGGRAVATING FACTORS in the jury instructions:

1. The first-degree murder was committed by Cruz who was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence.

Watch related witness teacher Stacey Lippel’s testimony

Scherer accounted for Cruz’s Nov. 13, 2018 attack on Sgt. Raymond “Ray” Beltran at the Broward County main jail. Beltran testified on July 27. She also accounted for the 17 counts of attempted murder in the Parkland school shooting. Cruz pleaded guilty to those.

Watch related witness Beltran’s testimony

2. Cruz knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.

Watch video of testimony by student injured Isabel Chequer

3. The first-degree murder was committed while Cruz was engaged in the commission of a burglary.

4. The first-degree murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

Watch video of Dr. Terrill Tops’s testimony

5. The first-degree murder was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.

Related story: Detective reads ominous comments, searches (Warning: Expletives)

Watch video of testimony by Robert L. Denney

6. The first-degree murder was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of laws. This applies to the three counts on Hixon, Feis, and Beigel since they were working when they were killed.

7. The victim of the capital felony was an elected or appointed public official engaged in the performance of his or her official duties if the motive for the capital felony was related, in whole or in part, to the victim’s official capacity. This applies to Hixon, Feis, and Beigel as public employees.

WATCH VIDEO of Chief Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz explaining aggravating circumstances during closing arguments

During closing arguments, Chief Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz explained the aggravating factors that jurors must consider in the capital case of the Parkland school shooter.

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES in the jury instructions:

The defense team that is asking the jury to recommend a sentence of life in prison without the probability of parole listed the 41 mitigating circumstances that they argued lessen his culpability. The number was later corrected to 40 because 15 and 16 were mistakenly combined.

1. Nicolas Cruz is a human being

2. Cruz has a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure

Watch video ‘Father of fetal alcohol syndrome’ Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones’s testimony

3. Cruz has alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder

4. Cruz was not correctly diagnosed as a child and did not, therefore receive the appropriate interventions at various stages of his life.

Watch the video of psychologist Frederick M. Kravitz’s testimony

5. Cruz was exposed to alcohol in utero.

Watch video of Danielle Woodard’s testimony

6. Cruz was exposed to drugs in utero.

7. Cruz was exposed to nicotine in utero.

Watch video of Carolyn Deakins’s testimony

8. Cruz’s birth mother did not obtain proper prenatal care.

9. Cruz was 19 years old at the time of the crime.

10. Cruz’s brain was not fully developed at the time of the crime.

11. Cruz witnessed death of his father

12. Cruz grew up without a father - raised by single mother.

13. Cruz witnessed the death of his adoptive mother shortly before the crime

14. Cruz lived with parent who abused alcohol

15. Cruz’s adoptive mother was not forthcoming to medical, mental health and education providers regarding his birth mother’s use of alcohol, drugs and nicotine during pregnancy.

16. Cruz’s adoptive mother was inconsistent with his medication regimen.

Watch video of Dr. Brett J. Negin’s testimony

17. Cruz’s adoptive mother did not follow all the recommendations of his medical, mental health, and educational providers.

18. Cruz suffered food deprivation throughout his childhood.

19. Medicated throughout his childhood.

20. Cruz is immature for his age.

21. Cruz struggled academically throughout his life.

22. Cruz continues to try to educate himself, despite incarceration and learning difficulty.

23. Cruz was sexually abused by a trusted peer.

CONTENT WARNING: Parkland school shooter’s defense raises sexual assault

24. Cruz has the following deficits or disorders or impairments:

a. developmentally delayed

b. severe phonological delay

c. memory deficits

d. motor function delays

e. neurological impairments

f. social skills impairments

g. adaptive functioning deficits

h. executive functioning deficits.

i. central nervous system abnormalities.

j. independent functioning deficits

k. cognitive deficits

l. intellectual deficits

25. Cruz was diagnosed with the following during his life:

a. Attention deficit disorder

b. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

c. Oppositional defiance disorder

d. Reactive attachment disorder

e. Learning disability

f. Speech and language delay

g. Pervasive developmental disorder

h. Developmental receptive language disorder

i. Conduct disorder

j. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

k. Impulse control disorder

l. Anxiety disorder

m. Antisocial personality disorder

n. Borderline personality disorder

26. Cruz experienced risk factors of antisocial personality disorder including:

a. Unstable or erratic parenting

b. Inconsistent parental discipline

c. Having two first-degree relatives (his mother and sister) that exhibit antisocial behavior

27. Cruz was declared a vulnerable adult due to mental illness by the Florida Department of Children and Families

28. Cruz was bullied and ostracized by younger brother and peers

29. Cruz lacked self-confidence and had feelings of inadequacy growing up.

30. Cruz grew up in a verbally abusive household.

31. Cruz has remorse

32. Cruz was a diligent and conscientious employee and has a good employment history.

33. Cruz pled guilty and accepted responsibility for his crime.

34. Cruz has the ability to succeed in a highly structured and supervised environment such as Florida State Prison

35. Cruz exhibited appropriate courtroom behavior

36. Cruz is currently under the care of a psychologist and a psychiatrist in the Broward County jail.

37. Cruz was compliant with his medication regimen in the jail

38. Cruz will be punished in prison and society will be protected.

39. Cruz is loved by people who will continue to be present in his life.

40. The existence of any other factors in defendant’s character, background, or life, or the circumstances of the offense that would mitigate against the imposition of the death penalty.

WATCH VIDEO of Chief Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill explaining mitigating circumstances during closing arguments

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About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.