Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday in the 2018 high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead.
Cruz, 23, presented her statements at a court hearing attended by a dozen relatives of victims after answering a long list of questions from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in order to confirm her mental competence. He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those injured in the February 14, 2018 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside of Fort Lauderdale.
A sentencing trial will determine whether Cruz will receive a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Scherer plans to begin evaluating jurors next month in hopes that testimony can begin in January.
As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologized and said, “I’m very sorry for what I did. … Sometimes I can’t live with myself. ”He also added that he wished it was up to the survivors to determine whether he lived or died.
Several parents and other relatives of the victims burst into tears while listening to the court proceedings through a call from Zoom.
Cruz’s attorneys announced his intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting, said he visited her grave this week to ask for the strength to get through Wednesday’s hearing.
“She was the toughest and wisest person I have ever met,” he said. “My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter despised bullies and put herself in the middle of someone being bullied to stop them.”
The guilty pleas will set the stage for a criminal trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Given the notoriety of the case, Scherer plans to evaluate thousands of potential jurors. Hearings are scheduled for November and December, with the goal of beginning testimony in January.
Following the pleas, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the killings. Cruz killed all 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building in Stoneman Douglas, investigators said. They said he shot victims in hallways and classrooms with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, scary, unusual, and sometimes violent behavior dating back to preschool.
The shootings prompted some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which is pushing for stricter gun restrictions nationwide.
Since days after the shooting, Cruz’s attorneys had offered that he plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying that would spare the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. But Satz turned down the offer, saying Cruz deserved a death sentence and appointed himself chief prosecutor. Satz, 79, resigned as state attorney in January after 44 years, but he remains Cruz’s lead prosecutor.
His successor, Harold Pryor, opposes the death penalty but has said he will follow the law. Like Satz, he never accepted the defense’s offer; As an elected official, that would have been difficult, even in liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1.
By making Cruz plead guilty, his attorneys will be able to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism