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Justice Denied in Parkland Killings

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool

If anyone ever was a better candidate for the death penalty it is Nikolas Cruz. Four years ago the then-20-year-old shot and killed 17 people, most of them students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.


Cruz pleaded guilty to all counts and last week came the sentencing phase. At least one juror held out for life in prison without the possibility of parole and that was enough.

In a surprise twist, prosecutors are now calling for an investigation following a report that one of the jurors felt threatened by a fellow juror. No other details were made public but if the alleged threat turns out to have been directed at pressuring the juror to vote a certain way, that might require a new trial or possibly a new vote on sentencing.

The juror, or jurors (we don't know how many) cited "mitigating circumstances" as justification for choosing a life sentence for Cruz. This in spite of their unanimous agreement that Cruz's murderous spree included "aggravating factors." Normally in such circumstances and in states where capital punishment is legal, as in Florida, that would be enough for a death penalty verdict. The judge will sentence Cruz next month.

As The New York Times reported, "In layman's terms, mitigating circumstances are reasons to show a defendant mercy. The 2022 Florida Statutes lists eight kinds of possible mitigating circumstances, some in specific terms and others in open-ended language that offers defense lawyers broad latitude.


"Two of the listed possibilities are that 'the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance' when the crime was committed, and that the defendant's ability 'to appreciate the criminality of his or her conduct' or to obey the law 'was substantially impaired.'"

Cruz showed no mercy when he shot and killed his prey, stalking some as one might do when hunting a bear. If the juror or jurors took pity on Cruz because it was believed he had a bad at-home life (another mitigating circumstance), there are plenty of people who didn't grow up under ideal circumstances, but never took out their grievances the way Cruz did.

This seems to me to be one more in a lengthening list of examples of the way our so-called justice system has more sympathy for criminals than victims and their relatives. Live TV coverage showed the families of the dead, some shaking their heads as the verdicts were read and others crying softly. Where is the justice for them and their dead children?

One of the several definitions of "justice" is "the administering of deserved punishment or reward." If Nikolas Cruz did not deserve having his life taken from him because he robbed 17 others of theirs, what crime would fit the definition?

As the late 19th and early 20th century writer Ambrose Bierce observed: "A nation that will not enforce its laws has no claim to the respect and allegiance of its people." The Florida legislature should pay attention.


No one can prove a negative, so it is impossible to say whether the decision to impose a life sentence rather than the death penalty on Cruz will encourage others with twisted minds and dark hearts. "Copycat" killings have followed previous school (and church) shootings.

America's morals are upside-down. We have tolerated the legal (but not moral) aborting of more than 60 million innocent babies, while allowing a fiend like Nikolas Cruz to live. "Woke" district attorneys in major cities refuse to prosecute violent criminals, only to see them repeat their crimes. If laws are not enforced, the lawless rule.

Whatever happened to the concept of "just desserts"? Taking away Cruz's liberty is not on the same moral level as his taking away 17 lives and heaping sorrow on the lives of their parents.

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