Nikolas Cruz has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people during a rampage at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
Cruz has plead guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder
A penalty trial with 12 jurors will now decide whether he will get the death penalty or life in prison
Cruz killed 14 students and three staff in a seven-minute rampage on Valentine’s Day, 2018
Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom shook their heads or broke down in tears as Cruz entered his pleas and later apologised for his crimes.
“His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family. Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison.”
The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Given the case’s notoriety, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors.
Cruz entered his pleas after answering a long list of questions from Judge Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency.
He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the February 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.
As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologized to them, saying, “I’m very sorry for what I did. … I can’t live with myself sometimes.”
He also added that he wished it was up to the survivors to determine whether he lived or died.
Anthony Borges, a former Stoneman Douglas student who was shot five times and severely wounded, told reporters after the hearing that he accepted Cruz’s apology, but noted that it was not up to him to decide the confessed murderer’s fate.
“My decision is to be a better person and to change the world for every kid. I don’t want this to happen to anybody again. It hurts. It hurts. It really hurts. So, I am just going to keep going. That’s it,” he added.
Cruz’s lawyers announced his intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.
Following the pleas on Wednesday, former Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the murders.
Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said.
They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behaviour that dated back to preschool.
The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally.
Since days after the shooting, Cruz’s lawyers had offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying that would spare the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial.
But Mr Satz rejected the offer, saying Cruz deserved a death sentence, and appointed himself lead prosecutor.
Mr Satz, 79, stepped down as state attorney 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 follow the law.
By having Cruz plead guilty, his attorneys will be able to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.