Gov. Ron DeSantis took time out of a Thursday press conference to articulate his extreme disappointment at the jury recommendation to spare the life of the Parkland shooter that day.
“I just wanna say one thing about this verdict with the Parkland killer: I think that if you have a death penalty, at all, that is a case — where you’re massacring those students with premeditation in utter disregard for basic humanity — that you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis said at a Lee County elementary school where the press conference took place.
He wasn’t alone. Many Florida politicians think life in prison for Nikolas Cruz isn’t “justice” for the 17 students and school staff he killed on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
“I just don’t think anything else is appropriate, except the capital sentence in this case. And so I was very disappointed to see that,” DeSantis said.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder, so the proceeding that ended on Thursday concerned only sentencing. Some of the victims’ parents were are shocked and devastated by the results, according to CNN.
Under Florida law, the jury’s duty was to weigh factors aggravating in favor of death against mitigating factors. Judge Elizabeth Scherer said that the final sentencing will take place on Nov. 1.
DeSantis is seeking reelection in November but his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, echoed the governor’s sentiment.
“There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death. The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice,” Crist said in a written statement Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, the Democrat running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in November, said in a written statement:
“I am disappointed at today’s verdict. Now, we must focus on the families who lost sons, daughters, and loved ones. We will continue our fight to keep innocent people from being gunned down in innocent places. The Senate needs to find the courage and compassion to do the bare minimum and keep our children safe by getting guns out of the hands of criminals, mass murderers, and terrorists.”
The Phoenix is awaiting a response from Rubio.
Sitting and former members of the Florida Legislature, including those from the Broward area or with direct connections to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, expressed their shock on social media platforms.
Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who served in the Florida House during the Parkland shooting, and who’s running for Congress now, tweeted Thursday:
“He should die. Even Death is not enough. This is travesty of Justice. Mass shooters get to live but there [sic] victims don’t, fucking unacceptable. He should be removed from ever existing. The 17 can never return and neither should he. I always stand with the Parkland families.”
“He should die 17 times!” Moskowitz added in a follow-up tweet.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican running for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, said in a written statement that, while he respects the jury process, he was “certainly disappointed by this outcome.”
“As a parent and a grandparent, I cannot fathom the depth of despair they must feel, and I am certain their pain and agony has been amplified as they relived that horrible day over and over again in the courtroom during these last several months,” Simpson said.
Anti-death penalty bill
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County, tweeted:
“I cannot imagine the emotions of the Parkland families right now, but I hope & pray that with the closing of this chapter it helps bring them a small measure of peace & closure.”
Farmer filed a bill in the 2022 legislative session to abolish the death penalty in Florida. The bill did not make it through session.
Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, tweeted about his hope that the shooter faces extrajudicial punishment in prison.
“Here’s to hoping that some Prisoners in Florida give the Parkland scumbag their own version of Justice. And may that little POS suffer while they do,” Latvala tweeted Thursday.
During his press conference, DeSantis lamented about how long the trial process took, with the penalty verdict coming down four years after the school shooting occurred. He also referenced various and sometime controversial moves his administration made following the shootings.
“Of course, we’ve taken a lot of action in Broward County — getting rid of the sheriff, doing a special grand jury, getting rid of those school board members, and then doing more on school security than any state in the country, three-quarters of a billion dollars since I became governor. And and we were happy to do that,” DeSantis said.
“But I think this one is, you know, this stings,” he concluded, before moving on to hurricane recovery, the main topic of the Thursday presser.
–Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix