TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A jury recommended Nikolas Cruz, the killer of 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, receive life in prison without parole. Shortly after the verdict came down at the sentencing trial, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was “disappointed in the outcome,” and that Cruz deserved the death penalty.
DeSantis’ commentary came from an event in Cape Coral, before he announced the next steps for recovery and schools reopening in the area hit hard by Hurricane Ian.
One juror prevented a unanimous decision, preventing a death penalty for Cruz.
“I just want to say one thing about this verdict with the Parkland killer. I think if you have a death penalty at all, that is a case where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for basic humanity, you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis said. “The jurors came back, 11-1, with one hold out, refusing to authorize the ultimate punishment, and that means that this killer is going to end up getting the same sentence as those who have committed bad acts, but acts that did not rise to this level.”
The verdict from the Parkland jury came after long deliberation, seven hours over two days. The sentencing trial itself took three months. While the jury’s decision was made, DeSantis said he didn’t find the eventual choice to be justice for families of the victims, additionally taking issue with how long they had to wait to have the sentence decided.
“I just don’t think anything else is appropriate, except a capital sentence, in this case. So I was very disappointed to see that. I’m also disappointed to see that we’re four and a half years after these killings and we’re just now getting this?” DeSantis said. “You know they used to do this, he would’ve been executed in six months. He’s guilty, everybody knew that from the beginning, and yet it takes years and years in this legal system that is not serving the interests of victims.”
DeSantis was elected as governor in 2019. Since taking office, he said he had worked within his authority to ensure those who had, in some ways, been responsible through failures of action were removed from office.
“I’ve been, you know it’s unfortunate circumstances, I’ve become friends with a lot of the parents of the victims of Parkland. Of course, we’ve taken a lot of action in Broward county. Getting rid of the sheriff, doing a special grand jury, getting rid of those school board members and then doing more on school security than any state in the country,” DeSantis said. “Three-quarters of $1 billion since I became governor. And we were happy to do that. But I think this one, this stings.”
The governor’s response to the verdict was similar to reactions by parents in the courtroom.
The Associated Press reported “Many shook their heads, looked angry or covered their eyes, as the judge spent 50 minutes reading the jury’s decision for each victim. Some parents sobbed as they left court,” after the death penalty was rejected.
DeSantis reiterated his own disappointment.
“It was not what I think we were hoping for. I think it would have been a situation where if that would have gone the correct way, I would have done everything in my power to expedite that process forward,” DeSantis said. “Nevertheless, we are where we are today. But it is disappointing, nonetheless.”
From across Florida, other state leaders and politicians weighed in on the jury’s recommendation.
Charlie Crist, running for governor as the Democratic challenger to DeSantis released a short statement, as did U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who was governor at the time of the shooting.
“There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death. The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice,” Crist said. “I will continue to pray for healing for the families and every person impacted by this tragedy.”
Scott posted his own reaction on Twitter, which called Cruz a monster.
“There are few days that go by without my thoughts turning to the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Scott wrote in part. “On February 14, 2018, a monster took 17 innocent lives and forever changed the Parkland community, the State of Florida, and our nation. Now, more than four years after that horrific day, I know the pain felt by the families and loved ones of those we lost is s till difficult for them to bear.”
The senator said that he has faith in the justice system, but that the decision was not what was expected, adding that he would pray for a measure of closure for “those whose hearts were torn by this monster.”