Nikolas Cruz avoided the death penalty. This is what’s next for him now

(CNN) — Here’s what we know: Nikolas Cruz, now 24, admitted to killing 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 and avoided the death penalty.

A jury on Thursday recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a decision that angered many of the victims’ relatives, who said allowing Cruz to live is not justice.

“Life imprisonment is NOT a punishment! That’s exactly what he wanted,” wrote on Twitter Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, who was killed in the massacre. He said the decision means Cruz will likely be protected while in custody, he will be able to “read, draw, receive phone calls and mail” while “his 17 victims suffered in fear” before he killed them.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about what the rest of Cruz’s life in prison will look like, most of which will likely be resolved once he’s formally sentenced early next month.

But this is what could come next:

The jury’s recommendation this Thursday is just that: a recommendation and not an official sentence. Since Thursday, jurors have spoken of what they describe as intense deliberations, with one juror reporting that he had felt threatened, an allegation the local Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

He will be sentenced in two weeks

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to formally sentence Cruz on Nov. 1 at 9 a.m., but under Florida law the judge cannot deviate from the jury’s recommendation of life in prison.

Victims and family members are expected to speak before sentencing.

But as for the sentence itself, the jury’s recommendation is final, Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes said at a news conference Thursday, adding that in the state “victims have a constitutional right to be heard at each stage of the procedure”.

“The court is going to respect that right and give them an opportunity to be heard. And we appreciate that, and we recognize that, and that needs to be followed,” Weekes said. “However, we also have to acknowledge that the jurors in the case sat through several days of very, very difficult and traumatic evidence, and listened to it all, weighed it all, and returned a verdict. We have to respect that.”

Cruz also has the right to make a statement at sentencing if she wishes, according to Janet Johnson, a Florida criminal defense attorney.

Cruz will then be processed at a reception center.

Cruz, who has been in the Broward County jail since 2018, was also sentenced to 25 years in state prison after pleading guilty to assaulting a jail officer in November of that year.

He is likely to remain in county custody for a couple of weeks after his sentence is handed down, before he is placed in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections and transported to one of the state’s several reception centers.

On Thursday, Weekes said Cruz will likely be taken to the South Florida Reception Center.

He will spend several weeks at the reception center “getting physical and mental health exams,” Johnson said. “They’ll look at your record, they’ll look at the level of crime that you’ve been convicted of, which is obviously the highest, and they’ll recommend a facility somewhere in the state.”

The center chosen is determined “by reviewing the seriousness of (the inmate’s) crimes, length of sentence, remaining time to serve, criminal record, escape history, adaptation to prison, and other factors,” according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.

“The most serious offenders, with the longest sentences and those least likely to adjust to institutional life, are placed in more secure facilities,” the Department of Corrections website notes. Based on those assessments, the individual is transferred to the facility deemed most appropriate.

Since Cruz is a high-risk felon, he is likely to be placed in a prison with other high-profile or “very dangerous” felons, Johnson said.

“But he wouldn’t be isolated, which of course is a real threat to him because there may be people who want to do ‘prison justice,’ who don’t think the sentence he got in court was enough,” Johnson added.

According to a department of corrections manual, there are several inmate custody classifications, including close custody for inmates “must be kept within an armed perimeter or under direct and armed supervision when outside a secure perimeter.”

The corrections department did not respond to questions from CNN about the type of custody Cruz may be placed in.

His defense hinted at the dangers inside prison

Lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill also hinted at the dangers Cruz will face in jail during her closing argument at the death penalty trial, saying she will “wait to die” in a facility, “whether from causes natural or for anything else that may happen to you while you are in prison”.

And at a news conference following the jury’s recommendation, Linda Beigel Schulman, the mother of slain high school geography teacher Scott Beigel, said Cruz “will have to look over his shoulder (in prison) every minute of the rest.” of their life”.

“I hope he has the fear in him, every second of his life, in the same way that he gave that fear to each one of our loved ones, whom he murdered,” he said. “I should live with that fear, and I should be afraid every second of every day of his life.”

Your rights in prison could include mail, visits, tablets

Parents of the Parkland victims, including Schachter, have pointed to the parts of life Cruz will still be able to experience while in prison that were stolen from their children.

This includes receiving mail and having visitors, which you will likely be entitled to, Johnson said. You could also have a tablet through which you can send emails and text messages to other people, Johnson added.

The department of prisons website noted that inmates and their families can communicate through “interactive and fixed kiosks available in general population housing units, as well as tablets.” Those services are available at all major correctional institutions in Florida, according to the site.

“And you can see the argument (from the victims’ families) saying, ‘We can’t do that,'” Johnson added. “And it’s understandable.”

What Mental Health Treatment Might Look Like

The corrections department also did not respond to CNN’s question about what kind of mental health treatment Cruz might receive while in prison.

During the trial, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released more than 30 pages of Cruz’s writings and drawings revealing disturbing thoughts he has had while in custody, centered on guns, blood and death. On one page, Cruz wrote: “All I want is to go to death row. I don’t want life. Please help me go to death row.” In another, he was addressing his family, telling them that he is sad and that he expects to die of a heart attack by taking painkillers and eating in an extreme way.

Also while in jail, Cruz drew pictures of bullets, guns, and people being shot. He wrote that he “never wanted to be alive” and that he hopes to die and never wake up and that “my life is painful, it always has been.”

His defense team argued that Cruz is a “brain damaged and mentally ill” individual who, among other conditions, suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, stemming from his mother’s alcohol and substance abuse during pregnancy, McNeill said during the hearings. final arguments.

And Cruz seemed to control his behavior in court, McNeill said, because “he’s on medication, and he’s under psychiatric care. He’s being treated by the prison psychologist.”

The killer will undergo a psychiatric exam when he arrives at the reception center, Johnson said, which will help determine his diagnosis and what medication he may need.

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