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20 Oct, 2021 15:46

Parkland school shooting accused Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty as Florida pushes for death penalty over 2018 massacre

Parkland school shooting accused Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty as Florida pushes for death penalty over 2018 massacre

Nikolas Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 of attempted murder in the Valentine’s Day attack at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The 2018 mass shooting was the deadliest ever at a US high school.

On Wednesday, Cruz appeared in front of Florida Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer and pleaded guilty to all charges against him. Following his plea, Scherer told Cruz, “The state is going to be using the conviction in this case as evidence of an aggravating factor for purposes of arguing in favor of the death penalty.” 

Cruz told Scherer he understood the state’s position, and offered an apology to the victims of the 2018 shooting. Scherer asked him a long list of questions aimed at confirming his mental competency. 

A dozen of the victim’s relatives were present in the courtroom.Last week, his lawyer, David Wheeler, Broward County’s chief assistant public defender, said that his client intended to plead guilty.

Cruz was 19 and an expelled student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when, on February 14, 2018, he initiated the “cold, calculated and premeditated” killing, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

Fourteen students and three staff members died in the attack, which lasted just seven minutes, making it the deadliest ever at a high school in the US. A further 17 people were injured. The victims were shot in the school’s halls and classrooms with a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle.

Court documents acknowledge that Cruz had a history of mental ill health and behavioral issues. He had been expelled from the school a year earlier and had a record of erratic and violent behavior dating back to kindergarten. 

Also on rt.com Parkland school shooter plans to plead guilty, but could still face death penalty for killing 17 people

Judge Scherer intends to start screening jurors next month, with testimony set to begin in January. Given the high profile of the case, the number of prospective jurors is likely to run into the thousands. In Florida, juries determine whether or not to impose a death sentence.

The penalty trial will determine whether Cruz is put on death row or sentenced to life in prison without parole, but his guilty plea allows his lawyers to argue that he has taken responsibility for his actions.

Cruz was just 18 when he legally bought the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting from a licensed arms dealer. Some of those who survived the shooting started a campaign for gun control legislation under the ‘March for Our Lives’ banner.

In a hearing last week, Cruz also pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a law enforcement officer. He is accused of kicking, hitting, and punching a sheriff’s deputy and trying to remove his taser during an assault in prison in November 2018.

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