WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As families of the Parkland victims sat in the courtroom shocked and saddened by the life sentences for Nikolas Cruz, some legal experts said it didn't surprise them.
Despite the expectations of many of the Parkland victims' parents, legal scholars point out that the country has been moving away from the death penalty.
Law professor Bob Jarvis at Nova Southeastern University and other attorneys point out that there may have been several factors that led to the jury not recommending the death penalty.
"This was a case taking place in Broward County. Broward County is a very liberal county," Jarvis said, pointing out that Nikolas Cruz's defense team only had to convince one juror to vote for a life sentence. "The death penalty is becoming less and less acceptable to Americans."
Miami defense attorney David Weinstein said the Parkland gunman's lawyers may have decided they had a read on the jury on the day they suddenly ended their defense, which was a move that had angered the judge.
"They knew through their defense case when it was halfway through, or three-quarters through, they've done enough and there was no reason to keep putting any more witnesses on," Weinstein said. "They saw something that they connected with in one of those jurors that made them believe we've got one."
Finding that one juror who couldn't vote for death seemed to be an easier task than convincing all 12 to vote for death.
"They make connections with you through eyes, the way they look at you, look at your client, the way they look at your witnesses and you have to gage based on your gut, what you're feeling," Weinstein said. "Is that juror with us? Is that juror against us?"
It's not known if any jurors had any deeply hidden objections to capital punishment, but there were other clues as to how some would understand the defense of mental illness.
"There were three or four jurors ... who either had experience with the mental health counseling system or had secondhand experience with it and who felt it had helped them," Jarvis said.
Regardless of the how and why, the jury's verdict seems to be final.
"It's a system that we have to live with the result from," Weinstein said. "We can't just throw it out because it didn't give us the result that we thought would happen or that we hoped would happen."
It's certainly not the result the families of the Parkland victims had wanted.
However, both legal experts said the life sentence does spare the families years — maybe even decades — of the anguish of returning to courtrooms for death penalty appeals.