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Parkland families face gunman in final hearing ahead of life sentence

Parkland families face gunman in final hearing ahead of life sentence
Parkland families face gunman in final hearing ahead of life sentence

Updated at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday

Their grief is immense. Their endless pain.

At the Broward County Courthouse on Tuesday, victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and family members of those who were murdered were able to speak directly to the gunman who massacred their loved ones on February 14, 2018 – unlimited by the restrictions of a jury trial.

Tuesday was the first of what are expected to be two days of victim impact statements hearings, when the courtroom is reserved for those affected by the crime to say whatever they want to the confessed Parkland shooter.

David Rabinovitz is the grandfather of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, one of 17 people murdered that day. He addressed the shooter directly, calling him the “Parkland murderer”.

“When you die, I have the greatest hope that they take you and…burn you and take your ashes and throw them in the landfill,” Rabinovitz said. “Murderer of Parkland, I hope your maker sends you straight to hell to burn there for the rest of your eternity.”

An outpouring of grief and rage

Last month, a jury ruled that Nikolas Cruz would spend the rest of his life in prison, after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on his death sentence, as required by Florida law. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to formally convict the shooter on Wednesday.

During the jury trial, victims and family members testified emotionally – but during the early stages of the proceedings they were limited in what they could tell jurors and they were not authorized to address the drawer directly, statements which could risk a mistrial.

On Tuesday, the guardrails came off.

Some of the family members’ comments raised concerns in the context of recent threats against public officials – and led to a heated exchange between defense lawyers and the judge.

Max Schachter is the father of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, another of the 17 people murdered.

“Today is my birthday,” Schachter said. “Every November 1, I will celebrate my birthday while you are in prison. And every November 1, I will blow out my birthday candles. And you know what my wish will be? May you suffer a painful and painful violent death.

For some, anything other than the death penalty is not “justice”

Some victims have taken the opportunity to lash out not only at the shooter, but also at the justice system – arguing that the courts have let them down because the shooter will not be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The shooter’s defense team argued that the mitigating factors in his life outweighed what prosecutors said were the premeditated, calculated and particularly heinous nature of the crimes.

Defense attorneys presented evidence that the shooter’s mother used drugs and alcohol when she was pregnant with him, which resulted in brain damage which left him with serious behavioral problems from an early age.

Debbi Hixon, whose 49-year-old husband Chris Hixon died trying to stop the shooter, says the shooter’s personal struggles are no excuse for what he did.

“You stole [Chris] from us and you didn’t get the justice you deserved,” Hixon told the shooter. “No extenuating circumstances will ever compensate for the heinous and cruel way in which you stole it from us.”

“I feel betrayed by our justice system,” said Meghan Petty, whose 14-year-old sister Alaina Petty was murdered.

Amy Beth Bennett

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South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool

Patricia Padauy Oliver during the sentencing hearing for high school shooter Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, Nov. 1, 2022. Padauy Oliver’s son, Joaquin Oliver, was killed in the 2018 shooting. Cruz, who pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder in the 2018 shooting, is the deadliest mass shooter to stand trial in the United States. He had previously been sentenced to 17 additional consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for 17 additional counts of attempted murder. for the students he hurt that day.

“He escaped this punishment because a minority of the jury was given the power to overrule the majority decision made by people able to see him for what he is,” she said, “ a remorseless monster who deserves no pity”.

Some family members call for legislative action

Some family members called on Florida officials to reconsider state law based on their experiences during the trial, including Theresa Rabinovitz, Alyssa Alhadeff’s grandmother.

“The Florida Supreme Court is expected to review the 2016 amended law that allows for minority rule in the event of a death sentence,” she said. “If killing 17 innocent people and injuring 17 others does not warrant the death penalty, then what can?”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said he will ask state lawmakers again allow for non-unanimous jury decisions for death penalty verdicts. In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on the decisions must be unanimousbut in 2020 — after new judges were appointed — the court rolled over.

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was murdered that day, also called for legislative action. He is the president of Stand with parkan advocacy group formed by relatives of victims.

Montalto criticized restrictions placed on victim impact statements earlier in the trial, when Judge Scherer ordered jurors to disregard the testimony of the families as aggravating factors.

“How could this be a fair trial when the only people who can speak for the victims – those who cannot speak for themselves – are instructed by the jury to disregard our words. The system is biased against victims,” he said. “This injustice must be righted.”

Statements to defense team sound alarm

In their statements on Tuesday, some family members assaulted jurors and the defense team, prompting an outcry from the defendant’s attorneys.

Patricia Oliver, the mother of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who was killed that day, said the lawyers would face karmic retribution for the sentence. She also appeared to refer to the lawyers’ children and families, prompting deputy chief public defender Melisa McNeil to file a formal objection.

“The families of the victims have the right to feel whatever they want to feel,” McNeil said. “Attacking the defense lawyer, attacking the justice system and attacking the jurors is not allowed. And it sends a message to this community that if you sit as a juror and you disagree with the verdict, you will be reprimanded.

Gordon Weekes, the Broward County public defender, urged Judge Scherer to moderate the statements, particularly in light of recent threats and actual abuses against government officials and their families, referring to the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband.

“No one jumped at the chance when people referred to karma operating in the universe. No one stood up when they made reference to the defense kids,” Weekes said. “We don’t want to create an atmosphere where dog whistles emanate from this courtroom encouraging people to take action.”

In a heated outburst, Scherer summarily and angrily denied the request, repeatedly yelling at Weekes and ordering one of his attorneys who spoke to leave his seat at the defense table and sit down. at the back of the courtroom.

Victims struggle with trauma, survivor guilt

In court statements Tuesday, some family members expressed rage at the shooter’s attorneys, prompting public defender Melisa McNeil to file a formal objection.

“The families of the victims have the right to feel whatever they want to feel,” McNeil said. “Attacking the defense lawyer, attacking the justice system and attacking the jurors is not allowed. And it sends a message to this community that if you sit as a juror and you disagree with the verdict, you will be reprimanded.

Above all, the victims spoke of their profound loss – the lives stolen, the Valentine’s Day cards never given, the words of love left unsaid – and the fear that grips their waking moments and invades their dreams.

Stacey Lippel is a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and told the shooter she lives with survivor’s guilt, wishing she could have done more to save her students and colleagues from him.

“Thanks to you, I check all the exits wherever I am. Thanks to you, I am thinking of the worst-case scenario for me and my family. Thanks to you, I will never feel safe again,” Lippel said. “The only comfort I have is that your life will be filled with horror and fear.”

The court is due to continue hearing testimony from the victims and their family members at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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. not forgiveness families parkland face shooter during hearing final before sentencing life

. Parkland families face gunman final hearing ahead life sentence

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