The 23-year-old man accused of bursting into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killing 17 people wants to plead guilty on all counts, his lawyers said Friday.
Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from the school prior to the 2018 mass shooting, are trying to secure a sentence of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty for the murders. Prosecutors, however, have refused to drop the possibility of a death sentence.
With his plea, which he’s set to formally enter at a hearing on Wednesday, Cruz’s trial likely would skip to the penalty phase, in which a jury decides whether his sentence should be life imprisonment or execution. That will likely come in early 2022.
The intended plea was news to Florida Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the case. “Apparently I’m the last to know here,” the judge said disapprovingly in court.
Scherer on Friday accepted a guilty plea from Cruz on charges unrelated to the shooting ― the assault of a prison guard three years ago. The judge warned Cruz that state prosecutors would use the assault conviction to argue for the death penalty in the mass murder case, a fact he acknowledged.
Verifying his mental competency, Cruz told Scherer he believed he experienced anxiety and depression, but had never received a formal diagnosis and was not taking any medication.
Police say Cruz confessed shortly after the Feb. 14, 2018, attack, one of the worst school shootings in United States history. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed, ranging in age from 14 to 49.
The shooting set off a massive movement led by young people against gun violence. A demonstration organized in protest of the nation’s largely permissive gun laws, March for Our Lives, attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world just over one month after the deadly attack.
Survivors and their family members hold mixed views on the possibility of Cruz’s execution.
Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old victim Joaquin Oliver, told a local news station this week that he was glad to hear “it is not that easy” for Cruz to escape the possibility of the death penalty.
“It’s not like, ‘I’m guilty, now I won’t die because of this,’” Oliver told WSVN.
A former Marjorie Stoneman Douglas student involved with March for Our Lives, Carmeron Kasky, tweeted criticism of capital punishment Wednesday, after it was first reported that Cruz might offer to plead guilty.
“The death penalty is archaic and unacceptable. This is not the fucking Stone Age,” Kasky wrote.
Meanwhile, Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jamie Guttenberg was among those slain in Parkland, asked the news media and his Twitter followers to “remember the victims.”