WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Death penalty sentences are rare in Florida, especially after 2016 when the state revised the law requiring a unanimous decision by the jury.
WPTV examined state records to see how often death penalty sentences have been handed down and what are the challenges that make these rare.
The shock was felt throughout every Florida community after the jury’s decision to hand down a recommendation of life in prison for Nikolas Cruz.
Parents like Hope Fogel are holding their children a little tighter after the announcement.
"Because of instances like this, I have taken my children out of public school," Fogel said.
Learning that the Parkland school mass shooter would not get the death penalty feels like there's no justice for the victims' families.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said he agrees that the ultimate punishment should be a unanimous decision, but the current system complicates arriving at that verdict.
"The jury has to be unanimous on the statutory aggravators, and even when that occurs like in the Cruz case, the defense can put up as many mitigators as they want, and all it takes is one juror to decide that one mitigator outweighs the aggravators and it's a life-in- prison sentence," Aronberg said.
People are now questioning that if something as heinous as the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School doesn't deserve capital punishment, then what does?
"I do think that legislators will revisit the issue especially because the Florida Supreme Court recently changed the rules in Florida saying that you could have a death penalty verdict without a unanimous decision," Aronberg said. "That's new, and so it's up to the Legislature to decide whether it wants to change the law."
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, this year three people have been sentenced to death in Orange, Osceola and Lake counties.
Only one person in 2021 was given a death sentence.
Four people were sentenced to death in 2020, including Marlin Joseph in Palm Beach County, for the murders of a woman and her 11-year-old daughter.
Another challenge in the system is that inmates sit on death row on appeals for years before being executed.
"It takes forever to implement the penalty, and so is it ever really true justice when people are languishing for many years on death row and family members of the victims end up dying in some cases before the killer does," Aronberg said.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, there have been 99 inmates executed in Florida. The last executions in the state were two in 2019.