FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With their emotions still raw, Christopher Hixon’s widow and Joaquin Oliver’s father struggled to understand how any juror would decide that life in prison without the possibility of parole was an appropriate punishment for the perpetrator of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
After it took Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer about 50 minutes to read the 17 verdicts, grieving relatives lined up to express their anger, disappointment, outrage, and grief to a group of reporters. Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas later said three out of the 12 jurors decided against the death penalty.
A letter to the judge from one of those jurors revealed there was contention during deliberations. There was a hearing to discuss a phone call from another juror to the prosecution reporting an alleged threat from another juror in the courthouse. The Broward Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
Broward County School Board member Debra “Debbi” Hixon said she was still feeling “shock” and “disbelief.”
“This just feels like someone sucker punched us,” she said.
The families learned after the verdict that although the majority of the jurors wanted the death penalty, they had to resign themselves to Florida law, which requires that all of the 12 jurors decide that the defense’s mitigators outweighed the prosecution’s aggravators.
Manuel Oliver said he feels “frustration, sadness” and “anger.” He said he chose not to be in the courtroom near his son’s killer. He asked lawmakers and judges that if the massacre wasn’t enough for the death penalty then what was?
“The message that was sent yesterday to the whole nation is that you can get away with murder,” Oliver said bout the verdict.
The verdict is one of many disappointments with “the system” since the FBI, BSO, and the public schools failed to prevent the tragedy in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018. Oliver and others turned to activism to deal with their grief.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October of last year. He was 19 when he shot 34 people in the school’s 1200 building and turned 24 years old during the penalty phase.
During jury selection, attorneys went over predispositions for or against the death penalty. They selected the 12 jurors and 10 alternates out of a pool of about 2,000 Broward County residents on jury duty.
The prosecution called 91 witnesses in 12 days and rested on Aug. 4, and the public defenders called 26 witnesses in 11 days and rested on Sept. 14. After closing arguments on Oct. 11, the jury deliberated for about eight hours.
Scherer’s sentencing is on Nov. 1 and she will be allowing the families of the victims to speak if they so desire.
Alaina Petty’s father: ‘We were hoping for justice and unfortunately we didn’t get it’
Hixon’s widow: ‘139 times, he pulled that trigger in seven minutes’
Scott Beigel’s parents: ‘If this was not the most perfect death penalty case, then why do we have the death penalty at all?’
Peter Wang’s cousin: ‘What about the kids? What about the families?’
Alex Schachter’s father: ‘We are shocked and we are devastated’
October 13, 2022
Helena Ramsay’s mother: ‘There should be an automatic penalty for someone that does that’
Joaquin Oliver’s mother: ‘The defendant accomplished his goal’
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