Speaking at a press conference after court on Thursday, families of the Parkland mass shooting victims unanimously voiced shock and outrage when the jury recommended a sentence of life without the possibility of parole instead of capital punishment.
“This should have been the death penalty,” said Lori Alhadeff, the mother of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. “100 percent.”
“I’m disgusted with our legal system,” Alyssa’s father Ilan Alhadeff added. “I’m disgusted with those jurors. I’m disgusted with the system.”
As prosecutors demonstrated in court, Nikolas Cruz, 24, executed a planned attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He wanted to kill at least 20 people and ultimately stole the lives of 17: Alyssa, 35-year-old teacher Scott Beigel, 14-year-old student Martin Duque Anguiano, 17-year-old student Nicholas Dworet, 37-year-old assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 14-year-old student Jaime Guttenberg, 49-year-old athletic director Christopher Hixon, 15-year-old student Luke Hoyer, 14-year-old student Cara Loughran, 14-year-old student Gina Montalto, 17-year-old student Joaquin Oliver, 14-year-old student Alaina Petty, 18-year-old student Meadow Pollack, 17-year-old student Helena Ramsay, 14-year-old student Alexander Schachter, 16-year-old student Carmen Schentrup, and 15-year-old student Peter Wang.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year. Prosecutors with the Broward State Attorney’s Office refused to budge on the death penalty, paving the way for this penalty phase. During the press conference, many praised prosecutors for the state’s work, and they voiced dismay at the jury’s recommendation.
“It’s pretty unreal that nobody paid attention to the facts of this case,” said Gina Montalto’s father Tony Montalto. “That nobody can remember who a victim is or what they look like. I know every day because I see my beautiful daughter’s face around our home, in my dreams, and I miss her very much.”
Tony Montalto, the father of Parkland shooting victim Gina Montalto, believed that the gunman’s life without parole sentence recommendation sends the wrong message. pic.twitter.com/zRkkQ8NuCG
— Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) October 13, 2022
Like many others, he disparaged the defense’s case that Cruz’s mother Brenda Woodard exposed him to drugs and alcohol in the womb.
“He was literally poisoned in Brenda’s womb,” said Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill of the Broward Public Defender’s Office in closing arguments.
“It’s pretty unreal that nobody paid attention to the facts of this case,” Tony Montalto said. “That nobody can remember who a victim is or what they look like. I know every day because I see my beautiful daughter’s face around our home, in my dreams, and I miss her very much.”
“The monster is going to go to prison,” Jaime’s father Fred Guttenberg said. “And in prison, I hope and pray, he receives the kind of mercy from prisoners that he showed to my daughter and the 16 others. He’s going to go to prison, and he will die in prison, and I will be waiting to read the news on the that.”
Christopher Hixon’s wife Debbie Hixon slammed the verdict for sending the message that Cruz’s life meant more than the lives of the people he murdered and wounded.
“I’m just completely devastated and shocked,” she said.
Alaina Petty’s father Ryan Petty said he was told the final vote was 11 to 1, with one lone holdout against the death penalty.
“One juror either didn’t understand the facts in this case, or was dishonest with themselves when they signed up to become a juror and would have never have voted for the death penalty because you cannot look at the facts of this case, look at the cruel, inhumane way the 17 victims were treated, that he went back and shot again those that were already down on the ground,” he said.
“If this was not the most perfect death penalty case, then why do we have the death penalty at all?” said Scott Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman.
Peter Wang’s cousin Lin Chen called the result unjust. She said her aunt — Wang’s mother — was suffering from PTSD.
“And not just my aunt,” said Chen, starting soft spoken and growing more visibly furious as she continued. “All the moms that I saw in the fucking courtroom, they are suffering, and this result made them suffer even more.”
Helena Ramsay’s mother Anne Ramsay voiced outrage at Cruz being able to get his hand on a semiautomatic rifle.
“This is no excuse in this country to have weapons of war on the street, and if do not get that, then something is wrong in this country,” she said.
“The defendant accomplished his goal,” said Joaquin Oliver’s mother Patricia Oliver. “The defendant made us feel bad, took our loved ones away. The defendant saw the families suffering. The defendant fired 139 times, and he didn’t do more because he did not find anyone else.”
“He is a sociopath and he did this,” said Alexander Schachter’s father Max Schachter. “He planned this out. It was premeditated.”
Formal sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 1.
“There’s no closure,” Beigel Schulman said Thursday. “There’s no closure when your son is murdered.”
[Image via Law&Crime Network]
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