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Florida shooter Cruz sentenced to life in prison

Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 students and staff with a semi-automatic rifle at a Florida high school, has been formally sentenced to life in prison.

The life jail sentence came on Wednesday after the court listened to several hours of anguished testimony from survivors and victims’ relatives.

“How much worse would the crime have to be to warrant the death penalty?” said Annika Dworet, the mother of 17-year-old victim, Nicholas Dworet.

Some relatives also chided Cruz’s defense lawyers, who fruitlessly objected to the judge about the criticism of them and the jurors on Tuesday, noting that Cruz had a constitutional right to legal representation.

Many victims’ relatives directly addressed Cruz, who sat inscrutable behind large spectacles and a COVID-19 mask at a table alongside his public defenders, wearing red prison overalls and handcuffs. He removed his mask when the mother of one of his victims told him keeping it on was disrespectful.

According to Reuters, Cruz was 19 at the time of the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 50 km north of the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.

He had been expelled from the school.

Some of the survivors went on to organise a youth-led movement for tighter gun regulations in the US, which has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world and where mass shootings have become recurrent.

Cruz spoke only briefly at the hearing, answering the judge’s questions about whether he understood the proceedings.

Samantha Fuentes, who Cruz shot in the leg, asked Cruz if he remembered making eye contact with her when she lay bleeding in her classroom.

Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver was among those Cruz killed, told Cruz they were in the same class together.

Writing by Fany Olumoye; Editing by Tony Okerafor