Nikolas Cruz to plead guilty to the Parkland massacre

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida –Nikolas Cruz is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of first degree murder in the 2018 Florida high school gunshot massacre, as his lawyers focus on saving him from a death sentence.

Cruz, 23, will appear before circuit judge Elizabeth Scherer, who will ask him a long list of questions to assess his mental skills. Scherer will then ask him one by one how he pleads for each murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the 17 counts of attempted first degree murder for those who were injured.

His lawyers announced his intention to plead guilty at a hearing last week.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he visited his grave this week to ask for the strength to pass Wednesday’s hearing.

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“She was the toughest, wisest person I have ever known,” he said. “My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter looked down on bullies and stood in the middle of someone who was being bullied to make it stop.”

The guilty pleas will pave the way for a criminal trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole. Given the notoriety of the case, Scherer plans to shortlist thousands of potential jurors. Hearings are scheduled for November and December, with the goal of starting testimony in January.

Cruz killed all 14 students and three staff on Valentine’s Day 2018 in a seven-minute rampage in a three-story building in Stoneman Douglas, investigators said. They said he shot dead victims in hallways and classrooms with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Cruz had been kicked out of Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behavior dating back to kindergarten.

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The shootings prompted some students at Stoneman Douglas to start the March for Our Lives movement, which is pushing for tighter gun restrictions nationwide.

For days after the shooting, Cruz’s lawyers had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, claiming that this would save the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. But longtime Broward prosecutor Mike Satz turned down the offer, saying Cruz deserved the death penalty and appointed himself lead prosecutor. Satz, 79, resigned his post as prosecutor 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 obey the law. Like Satz, he never accepted the defense offer – as an elected official it would have been difficult, even in liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than twice.

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By making Cruz plead guilty, his lawyers will be able to argue during the hearing on the sanction that he has assumed responsibility for his acts.

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Associated Press reporter Will Weissert in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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