Parkland gunman pleads guilty to 17 counts of murder | School shooting in Parkland, Florida
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first degree murder in the 2018 high school massacre in Florida.
Cruz, 23, pleaded his case after answering a long list of questions from circuit judge Elizabeth Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competence. He has been charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first degree murder for those injured in the February 14, 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside of Fort Lauderdale.
His lawyers announced his intention to plead guilty at a hearing last week, as they focus on saving him from a death sentence.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he visited his grave this week to ask for the strength to pass Wednesday’s hearing.
âShe was the toughest, wisest person I have ever known,â he said. âMy daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter looked down on bullies and put herself in the middle of someone who was being bullied to make it stop.
The guilty pleas will pave the way for a criminal trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole. Given the notoriety of the case, Scherer plans to shortlist thousands of potential jurors. Hearings are scheduled for November and December, with the goal of starting testimony in January.
Cruz killed all 14 students and three staff on Valentine’s Day 2018 in a seven-minute rampage at a three-story school building in Parkland, Florida, investigators said. They said he shot dead victims in hallways and classrooms with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Cruz had been kicked out of Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behavior dating back to kindergarten.
The shootings have led some students at Stoneman Douglas to start the March for Our Lives movement, which campaigns for tighter gun restrictions nationwide.
For days after the shooting, Cruz’s lawyers had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, claiming that this would save the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. But longtime Broward prosecutor Mike Satz turned down the offer, saying Cruz deserved a death sentence and appointed himself lead prosecutor. Satz, 79, resigned his post as prosecutor in January after 44 years, but remains Cruz’s chief prosecutor.
His successor, Harold Pryor, is opposed to the death penalty but has said he will obey the law. Like Satz, he never accepted the defense offer – as an elected official it would have been difficult, even in Liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than twice.
By making Cruz plead guilty, his lawyers will be able to argue during the hearing on the sanction that he has assumed responsibility for his acts.