Nikolas Cruz and other mass murderers deserve the death penalty

Nikolas Cruz and other mass murderers deserve the death penalty

Josh Shuster, Staff Writer

On February 14, 2018, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and injured 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

For four and a half years, the country awaited a verdict on this man’s crime. Unfortunately, the United States failed to carry out justice last week when the jury did not give Cruz the death penalty, instead sentencing him to life in prison without parole. 

When I heard the news of the verdict, I was shocked. I thought Florida, an increasingly red state, would impose the death penalty on Cruz, if premeditated mass murder was not enough of a reason for the death penalty in the first place. Florida is one of 27 states, most of which are red, that allows for capital punishment. I firmly believe that Cruz should have received the death penalty for his heinous actions.

One fundamental flaw in Florida’s judicial process that led to such a shameful verdict is the abolition of two integral statutes in 2016: first, the ability for a judge to override a jury’s decision of a life sentence for a criminal, and second, the ability for a jury to sentence a defendant to with a seven to five majority. As a result of these rescissions, the death penalty is more difficult to give to criminals because the decision must be unanimous among the jury, which, in the case of Cruz, is especially outrageous.

The death penalty has two key benefits, which are especially applicable in the Cruz trial. First, it is the most foolproof method of ensuring a criminal never commits any future crimes or violent acts. Although life in prison without parole seems to also solve this issue, there’s the chance that a criminal commits acts of violence on other inmates or in the small chance of a jailbreak, a prisoner-for-life could escape.

Second, it proves to those close to the victims that the punishment given to the aggressor fits the nature of the crime. A plethora of parents of victims of the shooting expressed their disbelief in the verdict’s result because they awaited a quick decision to execute Cruz. This includes the parents of victims Alyssa Adelheff, Gina Montalto, Jaime Guttenberg, Scott Beigel, Peter Wang, and Helena Ramsay. Nothing could ever be done to bring back the victims, but executing the perpetrator of the murder rightfully punishes him for his crime.

A ruling of a life sentence for Cruz, rather than death, can set a dangerous precedent for future rulings in mass shootings, possibly allowing more people to get less severe punishments when causing murder, injury, and pain for many. If sentences for violent crimes aren’t imposed harshly enough, less people will take the sentences seriously, which could lead to more tragic events like the Parkland shooting.

I have heard many people mention that Cruz was mentally ill throughout his entire life, and thus should not receive the death penalty. This argument is not just foolish, but also incredibly insulting to those whose loved ones were brutally murdered by Cruz. 

Mental illness during a violent event like the Parkland shooting cannot explain a murderer’s actions if they are deemed sane enough to appear before the judge. A person is considered legally insane if they genuinely were unaware of their actions during the time of the event in question, or if they did not know that their acts were wrong. However, it was proven in court that Cruz was both aware of his actions, and knew they were wrong, which effectively rules out most, if not all, mitigating factors tied to mental illness. 

All juries have different opinions, but this does not change the fact that the jury of the Parkland Shooting made a shameful mistake in their decision. However, the judge was unable to overrule the jury’s decision because of Florida’s legislation. I am disappointed in Florida’s legislature of the time for repealing the two previously mentioned laws, because it did not seem to take into account the possibility that the jury could make such a ridiculous decision that a judge would need to override it. If judicial override legislation was still in place, the judge could have overrode the jury’s decision simply based on the fact that Cruz murdered 17 people and almost killed 17 more. Furthermore, I believe that there is no purpose in having a death penalty, especially under Florida’s new legislation, if not all jurors will be comfortable giving it to deserving criminals. 

It is important to note that for nine of the 12 jurors in the case, it was pretty clear that Cruz deserved the death penalty. However, one of the three jurors who opposed the death penalty said that she just “could not” sentence somebody she saw as mentally ill to death. The juror’s statement infuriated me; it made clear that she never even considered giving Cruz the death penalty despite all the evidence that Cruz was aware of his actions. It is exactly for instances like this that the pre-2016 Florida legislation is integral to maintaining justice in the name of the law.

The juror’s statement also raises multiple red flags about the jury selection process before the trial even began. The fact that the prosecution failed to find 12 jurors who were all flexible and comfortable with giving the death penalty to a criminal based on sufficient evidence suggests that the result of the trial was arguably already decided before it even started. To me, that is heartbreaking, and a gross oversight on the behalf of the prosecution. If under Florida’s recent legislation, one juror never planned to take into consideration the death penalty, what is the point of having capital punishment? 

Above everything else, what infuriates me the most about the verdict is that Cruz not only remains alive, but spends the rest of his life under a roof with food, clothes, and water. I believe that when Cruz opened fire on the innocent men, women and children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he not only forfeited his right to live, but also his access to most basic human rights. Although life sentences are often less expensive than executions (in Florida, executions can cost up to 24 million dollars while it costs around 20,000 dollars per year to hold an inmate), I believe that people, especially those affected by the crime, would rather pay to end a murderer’s life rather than preserve it.

Punishments should fit the crime: the termination of Cruz’s basic human right to live. Florida taxpayers will have to reconcile that part of their taxes will be used to keep Cruz alive. That includes the family, friends, and close ones of all 17 victims of the shooting. Why on earth would they, or anybody for that matter, have to pay to care for the man who took these innocent lives and caused thousands anguish, sorrow, and torment?

The American justice system is not perfect. Even though there have been several successful results of recent verdicts such as the outcome in the Ahmaud Arbery trial, we must not turn our heads from miscarriages of justice like the Parkland shooting verdict. Florida governor Ron DeSantis said that he is considering introducing reforms after hearing about the outcome of the Cruz trial. I fully support this decision, and hope he re-introduces the judicial override and/or the seven to five majority rule.