Parkland high school gunman to face victims in court as sentencing starts

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The Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s two-day sentencing hearing begins on Tuesday. The 24-year-old pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It marked the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

The families of the 17 people Nikolas murdered will speak during the sentencing, and are allowed to address him directly should they choose.

After they and the 17 people Nikolas wounded get their chance to speak, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Wednesday will formally sentence him to life in prison without parole.

The jury in his recently concluded penalty trial could not unanimously agree the 24-year-old deserved a death sentence.

In the trial, prosecutors had argued the gunman planned the shooting for seven months.

They also said he slipped into a three-story classroom building, firing 140 shots with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle down hallways and into classrooms.

He fatally shot some wounded victims after they fell.

Nikolas said he chose Valentine’s Day so it could never again be celebrated at Stoneman Douglas.

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Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes, whose lawyers represent Nikolas, said he has no problem with the families expressing their anger directly to Nikolas.

He said “rightly so” as the sentencing hearing “is not only an accountability process, but there are also some cathartic pieces that come from it”.

Mr Weekes added: “Hopefully, after expressing (their anger), not only will the community be able to hear the pain they are carrying, the court will be able to hear it and we will move forward.”

He also said Nikolas is not expected to speak, with the 24-year-old apologising in court last year after pleading guilty to the murders and attempted murders.

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