(CNN) — Nikolas Cruz, the young man who killed 17 people at a South Florida high school in 2018, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, ending an agonizing months-long trial in which a jury refused to recommend the death penalty.
The killer, now 24, first faced more of his victims in court before Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer formally handed down the recommended sentence last month, a result that disappointed and angered many family members of the people he killed. a sentiment expressed by many in this week’s testimony of the impact of their sacrifice.
The judge read each count of the indictment for murder and attempted murder, a total of 34. He was sentenced to life in prison for each count. He was not allowed to deviate from the jury’s recommendation.
“I’m ordering each charge to run consecutively … It’s one after the other,” Scherer said. The judge referred Cruz to the Florida Department of Corrections and informed him he had 30 days to appeal the sentence.
“It’s heartbreaking that anyone who heard and saw all of this didn’t punish this killer with the worst possible punishment,” Annika Dworet, the mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet, said Wednesday. “As we all know, the worst penalty in the state of Florida is the death penalty. How bad would a crime have to be to deserve the death penalty?
Wednesday was the second day of emotional victim testimony, following the previous round on Tuesday, when many of the victims’ relatives and some of the survivors confronted Cruz, who pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Despite the continuing epidemic of gun violence in the United States, it remains the deadliest mass shooting at an American high school.
Others who testified Wednesday spoke of the pain the shooting caused them, like Lori Alhadeff, who said she went to the medical examiner’s office to see the body of her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and stepped on the spots where the gunman shot him.
“You stole Alyssa’s lifetime of memories,” she told the killer. “Alyssa will never graduate from high school. Alyssa will never go to college and Alyssa will never play soccer. She will never marry and never have a child.”
“I hope you’re miserable for the rest of your miserable life,” added Lori Alhadeff. “I hope for you that the pain of what you did to my family burns and traumatizes you every day.”
The state sought the death penalty, so Cruz’s trial moved into the sentencing phase, in which the jury was tasked with hearing prosecutors and defense attorneys argue why they believe they should or should not be executed.
The prosecution argued in part that the shooting was particularly heinous, heinous or cruel and that it was premeditated and calculated. The defense, which argued for a life sentence, pointed to the shooter’s mental or intellectual disabilities that they said stemmed from prenatal alcohol exposure.
Three jurors were convinced to vote for life, sparing Cruz the death penalty, which in Florida juries must unanimously recommend. Scherer must follow the jury’s recommendation of life in prison without parole, according to state law.
During this week’s testimony, the attacker remained emotionless, wearing a prison uniform and glasses. He also wore a medical mask, although he took it off Wednesday after Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of 14-year-old victim Jaime, told him it was disrespectful.
“You shouldn’t be sitting there with a mask on your face. It is disrespectful to hide your expressions under a mask when we, the family, are sitting here talking to you,” he said during his testimony. “Down in your seat, hunched over trying to look innocent, and you’re not, because you admitted what you did. And everyone knows what you did.”
The killer then took off his mask, but his facial expression did not change.
What’s next for the killer?
It is not known what Cruz’s future will look like. He will likely remain in Broward County custody before being turned over to the Florida Department of Corrections and taken to one of several reception centers around the state.
There, Cruz will spend weeks undergoing physical and mental examinations, Florida criminal defense attorney Janet Johnson told CNN. “They’re going to look at his history, look at the level of the crime he’s been convicted of, which is obviously the highest, and they’re going to recommend a facility somewhere in the state,” he said.
The facility is determined by factors including the seriousness of the offense, the length of the sentence and the inmate’s criminal history, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. In general, those convicted of the most serious crimes or those with the longest sentences are placed in the most secure institutions, the site says.
Because Cruz is a high-risk criminal, he will likely be placed in prison with other high-profile or “very dangerous” criminals, Johnson said.
“But he wouldn’t be isolated, which of course poses a real threat to him because there may be people who want to do ‘prison justice’, who didn’t think the sentence he got in court was enough,” added Johnson.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to CNN’s inquiry about what mental health treatment Cruz may receive while in prison. During the trial, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released more than 30 pages of Cruz’s writings and drawings that revealed disturbing thoughts he had while in custody, focusing on guns, blood and death.
On one page, Cruz wrote that he wanted to go to the death penalty, while on another, he told his family that he was sad and expected to die of a heart attack while taking painkillers and overeating.
For the victims and their families, the end of the trial simply marks the closing of a chapter in a life’s journey of grief.
“I want to put this behind me,” Max Schachter told CNN on Wednesday. “I will go to court later today. He will be sentenced to life in prison, and I will never think of this murderer again.”
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.