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A jury recommends life in prison for Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 03: Chief Assistant Public Defender David Wheeler, left, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz are shown at the defense table during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse on August 3, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shooting. (Photo by Amy Beth Bennett-Pool/Getty Images)
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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 03: Chief Assistant Public Defender David Wheeler, left, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz are shown at the defense table during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse on August 3, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shooting. (Photo by Amy Beth Bennett-Pool/Getty Images)

A jury has recommended that the shooter who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., be sentenced to life in prison.

Nikolas Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last year to 17 charges of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The question facing jurors now was whether Cruz would spend the rest of his life in prison or be sentenced to death.

Cruz carried out the massacre on Valentine's Day in 2018. He was 19 at the time, and had been expelled from the school. He entered a school building through an unlocked side door and used an AR-15-style rifle to kill 14 students and three staff members, as well as wound 17 others.

Jurors began deliberations on Wednesday. Late that day, the jury asked to see the murder weapon. On Thursday morning, the jury said it had come to a recommendation on a sentence, about 15 minutes after the jurors were able to examine the weapon, according to The Associated Press.

Prosecutors had pushed for the death sentence. In closing arguments Tuesday, lead prosecutor Mike Satz told jurors that Cruz had hunted his victims during his siege of the school, returning to some of those he'd wounded to shoot them again, and kill them.

"This plan was goal directed, it was calculated, it was purposeful and it was a systematic massacre," Satz said.

NPR's Greg Allen has been covering the trial in Fort Lauderdale.

"Over the trial's six months, jurors heard students and teachers who survived the shooting describe the attack. They heard graphic testimony from medical examiners and viewed surveillance videos showing Cruz firing into classrooms and hallways, shooting some victims repeatedly," Allen reported.

In laying out their defense, lawyers for Cruz presented testimony from counselors and a doctor who say the defendant suffers from a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a condition that they argued affects his reasoning and behavior. Witnesses testified that his birth mother, Brenda Woodard, had abused alcohol and cocaine while she was pregnant with him.

"You now know that Nikolas is a brain-damaged, broken, mentally-ill person, through no fault of his own," Cruz's lawyer, Melissa McNeil, stated in closing arguments. "He was literally poisoned in Brenda's womb."

For Cruz to receive the death penalty, the sentence needed to be agreed upon by all 12 jurors.

Cruz's rampage is the deadliest mass shooting to go to trial in the U.S., according to The Associated Press. In other attacks in which 17 or more people were killed, the shooter was either killed by police or died by suicide. Still awaiting trial is the suspect in the 2019 shooting of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

NPR's Miami Correspondent Greg Allen contributed to this report.
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