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Parkland Shooter Trials: A Death Sentence or A Life in Prison?

Updated: Jan 12

From age three, Nikolas Cruz was a troubled child. At such a young age he had already begun an obsession with guns, visiting psychiatrists, meeting with counselors, and talking to police officers. On February 14th, 2018, he stopped listening to the people trying to help him.

Fifty-four months ago, Cruz killed fourteen students and three teachers at Stoneman Douglas High School. One month ago, the pain began again as Cruz’s sentencing was finally taken to court. The prosecution worked to charge Cruz with the death penalty, while the defense was fighting for survival and a life sentence.

Beginning on July 18th, the prosecution opened the trial with a three week period of testimonies, witnesses, and evidence. Their case rested on the facts behind Cruz’s clear malice and intent to kill. Through videos, text messages, and posts from Cruz, the seven men and five women in the jury saw the events that took place in 2018.

The prosecution finished with the security footage of the shooting. According to an article in The New York Times, the jurors were horrified at the graphic scenes. They were then led through the preserved crime scene and allowed to take time on their own to look around.

The defense filed multiple motions to stop certain evidence, such as the footage of the shooting, from being played. However, the judge denied all motions. On August 4th, the prosecution rested their case, and the defense team took over.

The defense team developed their case around one goal– sparing a life. Assistant public defender Ms. McNeill argued that while Cruz committed a horrific crime, she is fighting for life rather than death.

The defense lawyers’ evidence centered around Cruz’s upbringing. At birth, Cruz was deprived of oxygen and was choked by the umbilical cord. His mother, Brenda Woodward, had a drug and alcohol addiction during, and after, her pregnancy, which the defense argued led to irreversible damage to Cruz’s brain.

The defense’s main witness, Carolyn Deakins, was close friends with Woodward. She testified that Woodward often stole, was always drunk, was unaware as to who Cruz’s father was, and was not an attentive mother.

As a baby, Cruz was adopted by an elderly couple. His adoptive father died when Cruz was a toddler, and thus money was very tight for the newly adoptive mother. While she was instructed to send Cruz to treatment for his psychological issues, she refused, in fear of losing his social security benefits. Just four months before the shooting, Cruz’s adoptive mother passed away.

Ms. McNeill stated, “Wounded and damaged people wound and damage other people because they’re in pain” (McNeill, 2022). Cruz had a very difficult upbringing, but in no way should that have encouraged him to commit the horrific crime that he did. The death sentence requires a unanimous jury, and only time will tell what sentence Cruz receives.


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