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Parkland survivors and victim family members unleash anger at the shooter

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's been 4 1/2 years since a troubled former student killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Today their survivors and families confronted him in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom. They unleashed their anger at the gunman and at his defense attorneys. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to killing 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. From the beginning, his defense team had one goal - avoiding the death penalty. In the end, they were successful, convincing a jury that his mother's abuse of alcohol and drugs while she was pregnant with him left Cruz mentally impaired. For many victims of the attack and their families, the verdict was another blow. Stacey Lippel, a teacher wounded by Cruz, told him she was disappointed and disgusted that he didn't receive a sentence of death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STACEY LIPPEL: The idea that you, a coldblooded killer, can actually live each day, eat your meals and put your head down at night - it seems completely unjust. The only comfort I have is that your life in prison will be filled with horror and fear.

ALLEN: During the trial, some survivors and families delivered victim impact statements. At that time, they were instructed that they couldn't address Cruz directly or talk about what punishment he should receive. And under Florida law, juries are told they cannot take those victim impact statements into account in determining a verdict. Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed at the school, said that law was unfair to the victims and their families. He called Cruz a sociopath who got enjoyment from watching people suffer. But he also had scathing comments for Cruz's defense attorney, Melisa McNeill, who he said falsely claim the gunman didn't receive adequate mental health treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAX SCHACHTER: It's irresponsible for you to make a statement that is an outright lie, for making the mental health crisis in America worse by misrepresenting what actually happened to the Parkland murderer.

ALLEN: Other families also directed anger at Cruz's defense attorneys. McNeill, Cruz's lawyer, asked the judge and prosecutors to rein in the attacks on the defense team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELISA MCNEILL: I did my job, and every member of this team did their job, judge. And you should not personally be attached to that.

ALLEN: The judge refused to intervene, and it led to an angry exchange between her and the public defenders. Scherer will formally impose a sentence of life in prison for Cruz at a hearing tomorrow. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANK AND THE BANGAS SONG, "TSA FT. PJ MORTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.