Nikolas Cruz trial: Key moments, everything to know on Parkland shooter sentence

Hannah Phillips
Palm Beach Post

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FORT LAUDERDALE — The sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, has come to an end.

Jurors recommended Cruz be sentenced to life in prison without parole Thursday for killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

While jurors found that the aggravating factors like Cruz's cold and calculated behavior were sufficient to warrant a possible death penalty, at least one believed they were outweighed by mitigating circumstances.

Their decision comes more than four years after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida — the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history — and concludes the nearly three-monthlong trial.

Catch up on the trial's most important moments below. From the emotional outbursts that bookended the trial to the wrenching testimony throughout, The Palm Beach Post has covered it all.

17 people killed in Parkland school shooting

Cruz took an Uber to Stoneman Douglas with hopes of killing "at least 20 people," he said in videos recorded beforehand. He killed 17 in fewer than six minutes, raking his AR-15 back and forth through the hallways of the 1200 building.

The full story:Remembering the 17 victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Judge selected for the Nikolas Cruz case

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was thrust into the national spotlight upon being randomly selected to oversee the trial. On the first day of jury selection, her interaction with a potential juror, who claimed she couldn't serve because of commitments to a "sugar daddy," went viral.

The full story: Judge overseeing Nikolas Cruz death penalty trial sheds anonymity for national spotlight

Prosecutor walks through attack in opening statement

Lead prosecutor Michael Satz gave a step-by-step account of Cruz's killing spree on the first day of the trial, causing one victim's family member to run out of the courtroom in tears. Others flinched or held their heads in their hands.

The gunman himself was unreadable.

The full story: Nikolas Cruz is 'cold, calculated, manipulative,' attorney says as death-penalty trial starts

Parkland survivors testify about horrors of attack

By the end of the first week, jurors had heard the story of gunshots and bloodshed many times over. Each was told from a different angle — a teacher scrambling to lock his door, a student shielding herself with textbooks — but most began the same way.

Valentine's Day, they said, had been a relatively ordinary day.

The full story: Grisly revelations as Parkland students, teachers recount Valentine's Day attack

Jurors tour the crime scene at Stoneman Douglas building

While the bodies of Cruz's victims no longer lined the halls, most everything else remained unchanged in the Stoneman Douglas freshman building. Jurors toured the crime scene Aug. 4 and returned to the courtroom after, stone-faced.

The full story: Preserved halls of Stoneman Douglas freshman building 'disturbing on a number of levels'

Parkland victims' families share their continued pain

Meadow Pollack's brothers struggle with survivors' guilt. The sister of Alaina Petty doesn't think she'll ever truly love again, and Joaquin Oliver's death has hardened his mother's once-easy smile.

Time hasn't healed Parkland's wounds. Each one was on display during the third week of the trial as victims’ families addressed jurors from the witness stand.

The full story: Lives of Parkland families upended, haunted by absence, anguish, sorrow

Cruz's attorneys call first witnesses

Cruz's attorneys called upon people with intimate knowledge of the gunman's troubled upbringing to persuade jurors that his path to killing 17 people was set long before the day of the massacre.

“He was poisoned in the womb," said lead attorney Melisa McNeill. "Because of that, his brain was irretrievably broken, through no fault of his own."

The full story: Teachers, neighbors say Nikolas Cruz's childhood marked by paranoia, aggression 

Tensions rise as defense rests Parkland shooter's case in surprise move

Attorneys for the Parkland gunman rested their case on Sept. 14, prompting a shouting match between the judge and defense lawyers. 

The announcement was a stunning and abrupt end to Cruz's three week-long defense, which was expected to feature the testimony of about 40 more witnesses — including Cruz's brother, Zachary Cruz.

The full story: Parkland shooter's attorneys abruptly rest case, causing shouting match with judge

Closing arguments end, deliberation begins

Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments Tuesday. The state urged jurors to sentence Cruz to death while his public defenders asked for mercy, insisting the gunman "was doomed" from birth.

A panel of seven men and five women have two choices: Death or life in prison without the chance of parole. If the jury opts for execution, Judge Elizabeth Scherer can follow the recommendation or choose instead to sentence him to life.

The full story: Fate of Cruz's life now in jurors hands

Jurors recommend life in prison for Parkland shooter

The panel of seven men and five women deliberated for little more than a day before handing up the recommendation. Victims' family members in the courtroom gallery scowled, shook their heads or held them in their hands as circuit judge Elizabeth Scherer read the recommendation.

Read the full story:Victims' families, politicians condemn life sentence verdict by Nikolas Cruz jury

Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at