Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty in 2018 Parkland shooting

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty in 2018 Parkland shooting
© Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via The Associated Press

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty to all charges related to carrying out the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.

Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer at a Broward County, Fla., court room.

Cruz’s attorney David Wheeler had told Scherer last week that his client would plead guilty to the murder charges against him.

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The guilty plea apparently comes without conditions, and prosecutors have indicated they still intend to seek the death penalty.

Fourteen students and three staff members were killed in the Valentine's Day shooting at the Parkland high school.

Scherer plans to start the juror screening process for the penalty trial next month with the hopes of testimony opening in January, according to The Associated Press.

Cruz made a statement in court after his guilty pleas on Wednesday, apologizing for the actions he took more than three years ago.

“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day,” he said. “I have to live with this everyday, and it brings me nightmares and I can’t live with myself sometimes. But I try to push through, because I know that’s what you guys would want me to do,” he added.

“I’m trying my best to maintain my composure and I just want you to know I'm really sorry. And I hope you give me a chance to try to help others. I believe it's your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury’s, I believe is your decision. I'm sorry,” he added.

Cruz later clarified, when asked by Scherer, that he was referring to the victims of the 2018 massacre in his statement, even though the jury will ultimately decide his fate: either death or life without parole.

After Cruz entered his pleas, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz detailed the defendant’s actions during the shooting, recounting his movement between hallways and classrooms armed with an AR-15 rifle.

Cruz’s attorneys have reportedly been pushing for their client to receive a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

The legal team previously offered to have Cruz plead guilty if he were sentenced to life in prison rather than death, contending that such a course of action would spare the community the pain of living through a trial, according to the AP.

Satz, however, rejected that proposal, arguing that Cruz deserved the death penalty.

The penalty trial will now determine Cruz’s sentence.

Tony Montalto — the father of 14-year-old Gina Montalto, one of the victims of the Parkland shooting — said Cruz’s guilty pleas are “the first step in the judicial process,” adding that “there is no change for my family" and calling Cruz “a violent and dangerous man.”

“As a society we should demand the perpetrators of horrific mass shootings be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We must find ways to deter others from copying these attacks,” Montalto said in a statement.

“On days like today we relive the tragedy that took our daughter from us. Sadly, nothing will bring back Gina or the 16 other wonderful souls that died at the hands of this murderer but we implore all Americans to work together and do everything in our power to ensure that no other family has to deal with the devastating aftermath of a school shooting in the future,” he added.

—Updated at 4:48 p.m.