Following dramatic statements from victims and victims’ families, a Florida judge is expected to formally sentence Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz to life in prison without parole Wednesday for the 2018 campus massacre that killed 14 students and three staff members.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to follow the jury’s recommendation to spare the 24-year-old the death penalty, instead sentencing him to a lifetime behind bars. Last month, in a 9-3 vote, a jury leaned toward sending Cruz to death row, but Florida law dictates that anything less than a unanimous vote automatically shifts the sentence to life without parole.

A family hugs during the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz
A family hugs during the trial of Nikolas Cruz in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Oct. 13, 2022.Amy Beth Bennett / Pool/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP file

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while the defense had asked for life in prison. The jury’s decision on Oct. 13 shook family members of victims who were visibly distraught by the verdict.

During the the three-month penalty trial, the defense argued that Cruz is mentally ill and his condition led him to the 2018 Valentine’s Day rampage in which he wielded a semi-automatic rifle at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Cruz pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder.

On Tuesday, survivors of the shooting and victims’ loved ones had the chance to deliver impact statements before the sentence was formally announced.

Stacey Lippel, a teacher at Parkland who was shot and survived, told Cruz: “You don’t know me but you tried to kill me.”

“I will have a scar on my arm and the memory of you pointing your gun at me ingrained in my brain forever,” she said before the court, looking Cruz in the eyes.

She said she’s left with feelings of horror and guilt.

“Horror at the memories of what you left behind in your wake and the guilt that I am left with because I wish I could’ve done more to save my co-workers and students who you killed,” she said.

Debbi Hixon, the widow of Chris Hixon, a teacher who ran into the school to try to stop the shooter, told the gunman: “I hope that your name and existence are erased from society.”

The parents of Ben Wikander, a student who survived being shot in the back, abdomen and arm, spoke of his agonizing pain and long road to recovery — saying he still has a ways to go.

“Whatever pain you experience in prison will unfortunately be a fraction of what Ben endured,” his father, Eric Wikander, said.

Max Schachter, the father of Parkland victim Alex Schachter, 14, argued that Cruz had received a spate of mental health help and called out the defense lawyers for claiming that he had fallen through the cracks. 

“There’s so many people in this country who suffer mental illness,” he said. “They’re not going out torturing and murdering innocent people.”

Marlene Lenthang and The Associated Press contributed.

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