Many disagreed with the Cruz jury’s decision to give the mass-shooter a life-sentence instead of the death penalty, but prosecutors believe something else is in play.
Prosecutors are demanding an investigation into allegations a juror was ‘threatened’ in deliberations of weather to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death.
A juror called the Broward State Attorney’s Office immediately after the verdict was announced that Cruz, 24, would be given life in prison without parole.
She informed staff that she received ‘what she perceived to be a threat from a fellow juror’ while in the jury room.
A second female juror wrote a letter to the judge that others were ‘extremely unhappy’ with her decision to give Cruz life in prison rather than the death penalty.
Lead prosecutor in the case Mike Satz is now calling for law enforcement to speak to the juror as they believe a ‘crime may have been committed’.
The majority of the jurors wanted Cruz to receive the death penalty for the 17 murders he committed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines Day 2018.
Florida law requires the death penalty recommendation to be unanimous to impose the fatal sentence, and the jurors did not all agree in the case of Cruz – sparking emotional outbursts from relatives of the victims.
Prosecutors are asking for the investigation under a criminal procedure which allows for it in cases where the ‘verdict may be subject to challenge’.
However it is unlikely that the allegations made by the juror of misconduct will change the outcome of the trial, as it was in Cruz’ favor.
Threatening a juror under Florida law is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, with a hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon to discuss the motion.
It is unclear if the threatened juror voted for life or death, but Denise Cunha wrote a letter to the judge that others were ‘extremely unhappy’ with her decision.
Cunha, one of the five women on the panel, was the sole juror who maintained her decision that Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison.
In a letter submitted to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, the juror recalled heated debates with the jury over the fate of Cruz.
She claimed that despite rumors that they had already made up their mind prior to the trial, they remained ‘fair and unbiased’ in making their allegedly unpopular decision.
‘The deliberations were very tense and some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.’
Tweeting the play-by-play in court, reporter Christina Boomer said that the jury came out of deliberation with several members visibly upset and with one woman nearly in tears.
By the time the jury presented their verdict for the judge to read aloud, two female jurors were already sobbing, and several male jurors were hunched over and keeping their heads down.
Boomer noted that there was a sole female juror who kept calm through the entire proceedings, juxtaposing the anguish of the rest of the jury.
The calm juror, who took sips from a coffee mug during the proceedings, was reportedly a Broward County library worker who previously worked as a church administrator .
Other members of the jury included a university staffer, a retail stocking supervisor, a probation officer, a human resources worker, and a former French military officer, according to Local 10.
Families and friends of the victims were visibly emotional as they reacted to the verdict – with the son of Chris Hixon storming out.
Many parents appeared shocked by the decision, sobbing and shaking their heads as the decisions were read out.
Parents and relatives slammed the decision of the jury as ‘disgusting’, saying that they had been ‘let down by the system’.
Jurors returned the verdict of recommending life in prison after just a day of deliberations after the three-months long trial.
It included graphic videos and photos, heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ family members and a tour of the still blood-spattered school building.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who cannot overrule the jury’s recommendation, will formally issue the life sentence on November 1.
Parkland teacher Stacey Lippel was so upset that Cruz was given life and not the death penalty that she started shaking.
Lippel, who was shot in the arm during the massacre, said: ‘I don’t understand. What are you thinking?
‘If not this as the case for the death penalty, then what? Why do we have the death penalty in the state then?’
Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was shot eight times, said that the decision ‘sets a precedent’ for the next mass killing.
He said: ‘I’m disgusted with our legal system, I’m disgusted with those jurors. I’m disgusted with the system.’
Other relatives had their heads in their hands as they listened to the outcome of the three-month sentencing hearing.
Gina Montalto’s parents began clutching each other’s hands before the reading began, and they started crying through the reading. Luke Hoyer’s mother was also crying.
Jaime Guttenberg’s father and Alaina Petty’s mother were holding their heads in their hands.
Cruz pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others on February 14, 2018.
The mass killer said he chose Valentine’s Day to make it impossible for Stoneman Douglas students to celebrate the holiday ever again.
It is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the U.S, with nine other people who killed 17 or more died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire.
Cruz’s defense team acknowledged the severity of his crimes, but asked jurors to consider mitigating factors.
They said that they needed to take into account his lifelong mental health disorders resulting from his biological mother’s substance abuse during pregnancy.
Lead prosecutor Mike Satz focused on Cruz’s eight months of planning, the seven minutes he stalked the halls of a three-story classroom building, firing 139 shots with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, and his escape.
He played security videos of the shooting and showed gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos.
Teachers and students testified about watching others die. He took the jury to the fenced-off building, which remains blood-stained and bullet-pocked.
Cruz’s lead attorney Melisa McNeill and her team never questioned the horror he inflicted, but focused on their belief that his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Their experts said his bizarre, troubling and sometimes violent behavior starting at age 2 was misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, meaning he never got the proper treatment.
Prosecutors contended that Cruz did not suffer from fetal alcohol damage but has antisocial personality disorder – in lay terms, he’s a sociopath.
Their witnesses said Cruz faked brain damage during testing and that he was capable of controlling his actions, but chose not to.
Prosecutors also played numerous video recordings of Cruz discussing the crime with their mental health experts where he talked about his planning and motivation.