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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

Op/Ed

Nikolas Cruz, Keeping the Death Penalty Alive – At What Cost?

Florida death chamber
Photo via FL Prisons | Columbia County Observer graphic

Nikolas Cruz’s culpability for the mass murder of 17 people and the injury of 17 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, is unquestioned. His horrific actions affected many more than those who were injured or killed and will leave a lifetime scar on far too many people.

He absolutely must be held accountable for this tragedy. The death penalty, however, is the wrong way to do so.

Cruz pleaded guilty. The sentencing could have moved quickly, with him never being released from prison during his lifetime. Instead, prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty, resulting in months of delays for the sentencing hearing and deep trauma to the victim’s families.

This is always the case when the death penalty is on the table, and in this situation, like so many, the families are split.

The trauma of experiencing this kind of sentencing hearing far outweighs any benefit, but I have never endured it in person. My daughter, however, is an intern with the Broward County Defense Attorney’s Office and attended the hearings. She described how horrific it was to sit through, especially expressing empathy for the family members, many of whom were visibly breaking down in the courtroom.  

If Cruz could be held accountable for the rest of his life without this additional trauma for the families, why seek the death penalty?

The Broward County Prosecutor’s Office made that answer clear – so that execution remains an option in Florida. When asked why they are spending millions of dollars for this sentencing hearing, prosecutors said that in a case like this, if they did not seek capital charges, they’d have a hard time doing so in the future. That justification is troubling.

The idea that the death penalty "must" still be an option is antiquated. Twenty-three states have abolished the death penalty, and three states are on gubernatorial moratoriums. Surveys of the public in Florida have found that more than 60 percent of people favor life in prison without parole over the death penalty for convicted murderers.

In Florida, the last study conducted about the death penalty cost was more than $51 million per year—nearly $1 million per week—more than it would to seek life without parole.

In the Cruz case, these costs will be less given that he pleaded guilty, so there was no trial, but that also means that any costs incurred because the state is seeking the death penalty are entirely unnecessary.

It is far past time that the death penalty be eliminated in the U.S. – even in cases as horrific as this one.

The death penalty is an antiquated and barbaric practice that does nothing to keep us safe, deter crime, or heal those who have lost loved ones.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is the author of several academic texts in her discipline and is syndicated by PeaceVoice

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