How THREE jurors spared Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's life

REVEALED: How THREE jurors spared Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz the death penalty – as frustrated man who wanted killer executed shares how he asked for Cruz’s AR-15 to be brought into jury room to try and sway hold-outs

  • Three jurors, including one ‘hard no’ who could not be swayed, voted to save the life of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz 
  • Last year, Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018
  • On Thursday, nine jurors voted for Cruz to receive the death penalty while three voted for life in prison. In Florida, death penalty sentences must be unanimous 
  • One juror said that before the verdict was read, he showed the actual gun used by Cruz to the holdouts in an attempt to convince them to vote for death 
  • Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas said: ‘It didn’t go the way I would’ve liked or the way I voted, but that’s how the jury system works’

Three jurors spared the life of convicted Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz as they recommended life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty.

Cruz shot dead 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. In 2021, Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty to the murders. 

Since the trial ended, multiple jurors came forward to speak about their experiences.

The day before the verdict was delivered, one member of the jury explained how pro-death penalty panelists showed graphic photos to the holdouts and even brought the actual AR-15 assault rifle that was used by Cruz into the deliberation room. 

The foreman said in an interview that there was one ‘hard no’ who could not be swayed among the jury. In the end, two others voted with that person to save Cruz’s life. 

The three-month trial included graphic videos and photos from the massacre and its aftermath, heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ family members and a tour of the still blood-spattered building.  

The jury rejected the death penalty 9-3 after deliberating for about seven hours over two days. Death sentences must be unanimous in the state of Florida.

Jurors found mitigating factors leading to their decision to vote for life in prison, such as untreated childhood problems stemming from Cruz’s birth mother’s excessive drinking during pregnancy. 

Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CBS Miami this week: ‘There was one with a hard no — she couldn’t do it — and there was another two that ended up voting the same way’

Last year, Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018

One of the holdout jurors was named as Denise Cunha of Pembroke Pines, Florida, by the Sun Sentinel

One of the holdout jurors was named as Denise Cunha of Pembroke Pines, Florida, by the Sun Sentinel.  

In the end, the jury could not unanimously agree that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigators. 

One of those jurors, Andrew Johnson, 39, said that he and other pro-death penalty members of the jury showed the holdout jurors graphic pictures of the teenage victims that day. 

When that didn’t work, Johnson told the New York Times that he asked for the AR-15 used by Cruz to be brought into the jury room. 

Nothing could sway the three hold outs. Cruz will now be formally sentenced on November 1. 

At one point, the jury brought the actual AR-15 assault rifle that was used by Cruz into the deliberation room

Cruz, 24, is seen embracing Chief Assistant Public Defender David Wheeler and smiling after it was revealed that the confessed killer would be getting life in prison – not the death penalty

PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIMS: Top Row L-R: Jaime Guttenberg, Nicholas Dworet, Martin Duque, Meadow Pollack, Cara Loughran — Second Row L-R: Alyssa Alhadeff, Luke Hoyer, Joaquin Oliver, Gina Montalto — Third Row L-R: Alaina Petty, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang, Alex Schachter — Fourth Row L-R: Helena Ramsey, Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis, Chris Hixon

On Thursday morning, the gun was waiting for the jurors, it didn’t change any minds and the group prepared to formalize their verdict. 

Johnson told the Times: ‘You had a lot of tears, a lot of frustration on everyone’s face. It became very silent.’

Once inside the courtroom, a different juror named in the Times article, Jimmie Benbow, sought to make a formal complaint, stating that he felt the jury had not been given enough time to deliberate. 

As Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked the jurors one-by-one if this was their verdict, Johnson had to be asked twice. He said: ‘I was going to say no.’

The airport technician added it’s his belief that it’s a ‘huge flaw’ that death penalty cases have to be unanimous.  

Earlier, Johnson said that the early voting saw most voting for death, some for life in prison and four people were undecided.

Nikolas Cruz is seen on security footage inside the school in 2018 when he carried out his rampage

Johnson echoed the statements of foreman Benjamin Thomas, who told CBS Miami this week: ‘There was one with a hard no — she couldn’t do it — and there was another two that ended up voting the same way.’

Thomas voted for the death penalty.  

He added: ‘It didn’t go the way I would’ve liked or the way I voted, but that’s how the jury system works. Everybody gets their vote; everybody gets to decide. We went through all the evidence and some of the jurors just felt that was the appropriate sentence.’ 

An unnamed juror told Local10: ‘I voted for the death penalty. We did go back there and try to hash things out. There was one juror that was just very set in what she believed and that was the life (verdict).’ 

A note given to Judge Scherer on Thursday from Denise Cunha saw her explain that she had not made up her mind about her verdict prior to the trial beginning, despite claims to the contrary from the jury pool.

Cruz, pictured, was said to be ‘gun obsessed’. He was armed with at least one AR-15 rifle and had ‘multiple magazines’ when he stormed the school

She said in part: ‘I maintained my oath to the court that I would be fair and unbiased.’ 

Cunha added: ‘The deliberations were very tense and some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.’ 

Thomas also said that the jurors had largely made up their minds on Wednesday evening and waited until Thursday morning to formalize the vote. 

He went on to say that one juror had made it clear early on that they could not sentence someone who was mentally ill to death.  

When one juror refused to budge, Thomas said: ‘There’s nothing else you can do, so we voted and moved on.’ 

While Johnson said: ‘I do respect the decision of everyone’s vote, including the ones that made the life vote. But at the same time, I would have preferred more cooperation, more involvement. I’m not happy with the result.’

The issues are not fully resolved despite the end of the trial. On Friday morning, prosecutors in the case called for an investigation Friday after a juror said another panelist threatened her during the deliberations.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer who cannot overrule the jury’s recommendation, will formally issue the life sentence on November 1

Prosecutor Carolyn McCann told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer during a brief hearing that prosecutors are not trying to invalidate Thursday’s jury vote and reported the threat only for safety reasons and so the Broward County Sheriff’s Office can investigate.

In their written motion asking for the hearing, prosecutors said the juror told them another juror did something during deliberations that ‘she perceived to be a threat.’

McCann said they did not ask any further questions because they didn’t want to taint any investigation and said the Broward state attorney’s office has no intention of getting involved further.

‘We don’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,’ she said.

Scherer agreed that if a possible crime was committed, deputies should investigate. The information has been turned over to sheriff’s investigators, who will contact the juror.

Scherer said two jurors tried to speak to her after Thursday’s decision was announced, but she told them that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Scherer said a bailiff told her later that one juror wanted to speak to her during Thursday’s reading of the decision. 

That juror sat slumped over during the 50-minute reading but did nothing obvious to indicate he wanted Scherer’s attention. When the jurors were polled, he agreed the life sentence was the panel’s decision.

McCann said that the person who reported the threat was not Denise Cunha.  

The jury’s decision left parents devastated. Ilan and Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter died in the slaying, comforted each other as the 17 verdicts were detailed in court 

Gena Hoyer, whose son Luke was killed in the shootings, closes her eyes during the verdict

Among those expressing their unhappiness with the verdict was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

‘I think that if you have a death penalty at all, that this is a case where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for basic humanity, that you deserve the death penalty,’ the governor said.

His Democratic rival in November’s gubernatorial election Charlie Crist agreed tweeting: ‘There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death. The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice.’ 

‘We are beyond disappointed with the outcome,’ said Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was killed. 

‘This should have been the death penalty, 100%. … I sent my daughter to school and she was shot eight times. … I cannot understand. I just don’t understand.’ 

Tony Montalto, father of 14-year-old Gina Montalto, expressed disbelief. He said the jury recognized that Cruz committed terrible acts, ‘shooting, some victims more than once on a pass, pressing the barrel of his weapon to my daughter’s chest. 

That doesn’t outweigh that poor little what’s-his-name had a tough upbringing?’

‘Our justice system should have been used to punish this shooter to the fullest extent of the law,’ he said.

Michael Schulman, the stepfather of teacher Scott Beigel, said the decision gives anyone a license to kill, then claim mental illness as a defense. 

‘This animal deserves to die. He hunted all of these people,’ Schulman said. ‘He planned it for months.’

As he spoke to the media, Schulman held up a laptop with an image of Cruz in the school hallway with a gun. ‘The last thing my son saw was the gunman aiming at him,’ he said.

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