On Thursday, a Florida jury spared Nikolas Cruz, the gunman responsible for killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, from the death penalty due to his history of mental illness.
According to Reuters, the jury in the Fort Lauderdale courtroom came to the controversial decision following witness testimony that Cruz, 24, had disorders harkening back to his mother's substance abuse when she was pregnant with him. Instead of the death penalty, the jury called for Cruz to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The prosecution, however, argued that Cruz's actions were premeditated, heinous and cruel, which meet the criteria to receive the death penalty in Florida, the Associated Press reports.
According to Florida law, the jury must unanimously agree that the aggravating factors exceed mitigating factors to recommend the death penalty.
Some family members of the victims were disappointed with the jury's decision.
"I'm disgusted with our legal system. I'm disgusted with those jurors," said Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa Alhadeff was killed. "... What do we have the death penalty for? What is the purpose of it?"
"It's pretty unreal that nobody paid attention to the facts of this case, that nobody can remember who a victim is and what they look like," Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed, added.
"I know every day because I see my beautiful daughter's face around our home and in my dreams, and I miss her very much."
Florida Governor Ron Desantis was also dismayed at Thursday's verdict.
"This is not what we were looking for," he said during a news conference in Cape Coral.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to premeditated murder in the 2018 Parkland shooting, one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history. At the time of the attack, Cruz was 19 years old and had been expelled from the school. He used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 14 students and three staff members.
Some of the shooting survivors launched the organization "March for Our Lives," which calls for gun control legislation, including a ban on assault rifles.
"It does, and it should say something to society – that we have to look at who we allow to own firearms, how we address mental health in our communities, and where we give grace when it's warranted," said Debbi Hixon. Hixon's husband, Chris Hixon, was the school's athletic director. He was killed after confronting Cruz during the shooting.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer set formal sentencing for November 1.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pool
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.