Nikolas Cruz the 19-year-old responsible for the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will face a trial before a grand jury in Broward County next week. The massacre was the ninth most deadly mass shooting in modern United States history, killing 17 students and faculty members. However, unlike most mass killers, Cruz was taken by law enforcement, raising the question of whether he should be punished via the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison. Despite the gravity of Cruz’s crime, I believe he should not face capital punishment.
The Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein advised Cruz plea to guilty in exchange for 17 consecutive life sentences without parole in order to avoid a trial. But the desire for capital punishment for Cruz is understandable. As Florida State Attorney Michael Saltz put it, “this was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school” — a tragedy that ravaged people’s hearts. When Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl. was asked in a Feb. 18 interview on Facing South Florida if Cruz deserved the death penalty, he gave an affirmative response. However, some aspects of Cruz’s history complicate this seemingly simple case.
The tragedy was hardly a surprise. Nikolas Cruz’s behavior raised many red flags prior to the Feb. 14 shooting. Not only did people close to Cruz assert that he was mentally unstable, stayed aloof from his peers and had an obsession with weapons, Broward County police had also received dozens of calls concerning incidents that involved Cruz. Moreover, he exhibited several unhealthy tendencies in his online presence: he posted pictures of his gun collection on Instagram and left an unsettling comment under a YouTube video, saying “I’m going to become a professional school shooter” in fall 2017.
The death penalty is obviously not the only option for convicted murderers. The criminally insane are exempt from the death penalty, as they are declared unable to distinguish between right and wrong. Though Cruz has not officially been deemed criminally insane, killing him because he killed others isn’t the solution. No amount of penal labor will compensate for the immense pain he inflicted upon the Parkland community, but sentencing him to life in prison and requiring him to perform community service can serve the good of the state and might be more reasonable than erasing him from the face of the earth.
The Federal Prisons Industry program, which operates under the name UNICOR, might be an option for Cruz, who has demonstrated he cannot peacefully function in society. The program was designed to lower crime rates in America and prevent criminal recidivism by getting inmates involved in the production of market-priced quality goods and services. Unlike other prisoners in the program, Cruz shouldn’t be released into the world of work afterwards. Rather, he should engage in this punitive form of labor for the duration of the 17 consecutive life sentences proposed by Finkelstein.
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Email Dasha Zagurskaya at [email protected].