Nikolas Cruz to Plead Guilty for Parkland School Shooting
Mr. Cruz will plead guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, his lawyers said, for one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.,
The former student who was accused of shooting and killing 17 people at his high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 plans to plead guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, one of his lawyers said on Friday.
The rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 14 students and three faculty members and wounded 17 and was one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.
The former student, Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time and had a history of mental health and behavior problems, used a semiautomatic rifle that he had legally bought to carry out the assault, according to the police.
“It is our intent to enter a change of plea as to both cases to all charges,” David Wheeler, one of Mr. Cruz’s lawyers, said in court on Friday. Mr. Cruz was scheduled to appear in court later on Friday morning to plead guilty in a separate case related to a fight with a guard in jail.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she would schedule a hearing for Wednesday for Mr. Cruz to change his plea in the Parkland shooting case.
There was no indication that Mr. Cruz’s lawyers had reached any agreement on sentencing with prosecutors, who had previously said they would pursue the death penalty.
“No plea agreement has been reached with our office,” Paula McMahon, a spokeswoman for the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, said in an email on Thursday. “If he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase.”
Mr. Cruz’s lawyer said he would ask for the judge to impose 17 consecutive life sentences.
Before the shooting, Mr. Cruz recorded three videos on his cellphone that indicated that he, like many youthful perpetrators of mass shootings, wanted his name to be remembered.
“When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am,” he said on one video. “You’re all going to die.”
The shooting led thousands of students who had grown up in an era of school shooting drills and lockdowns to walk out of their classrooms and march for tougher gun control laws and an end to gun violence. Some of the marches were led by teenagers who had survived the Parkland shooting and who quickly emerged as leaders of a younger generation of activists.
Less than a month after the shooting, a Broward County prosecutor made public his decision to seek the death penalty.
In a 2018 filing in Broward County Circuit Court, the prosecutor, Michael J. Satz, who was then the Broward County state attorney, cited seven aggravating factors that he said could make Mr. Cruz eligible for execution. Those factors, enshrined in Florida law, include that Mr. Cruz “knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons” and that the capital felony at issue was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
Lawyers for Mr. Cruz had repeatedly said that he would agree to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole and that he would not contest his guilt at what was certain to be an agonizing and emotional trial. They indicated that they would instead focus on proving mitigating circumstances, such as extreme mental duress. Under Florida law, a single juror could block a death sentence.
The case involving the fight with the officer in jail dates back to November 2018, when Mr. Cruz was accused of assaulting an officer and grabbing his electroshock weapon while being held in a Fort Lauderdale jail.
After Sgt. Raymond Beltran told Mr. Cruz to “not drag his sandals on the ground,” according to an affidavit, Mr. Cruz made an obscene gesture and “rushed” him and “struck him in the face.” The two men ended up on the ground, the affidavit said. Video shows that Mr. Cruz was on top of Sergeant Beltran at one point, punching him in the head several times, according to the affidavit.
Mr. Cruz had been scheduled to face trial on those charges next week, but the jury selection in that case was rocky, a sign of how difficult it would be to try Mr. Cruz in a region still traumatized by the Parkland attack.
Several prospective jurors cried after seeing Mr. Cruz for the first time earlier this month, and Mr. Cruz himself began to sob in front of the jurors. His lawyers tried to give him colored pencils in what they said was an effort to calm him down, but the judge ordered that they be taken away after prosecutors accused his lawyers of using the pencils as props to make him appear mentally unstable.
Long before the shooting at the school, Mr. Cruz’s behavior had provoked concern from school officials. In 2016, Mr. Cruz told another student that he had a gun at home and was thinking of using it, prompting two guidance counselors and a sheriff’s deputy at the high school to conclude that he should be forcibly committed for psychiatric evaluation, according to mental health records that were obtained by The New York Times.
But Mr. Cruz appears never to have been institutionalized despite making threats to himself and others, cutting his arms with a pencil sharpener and claiming he had drunk gasoline in a possible attempt to kill himself, all in a five-day period in September 2016.
The revelation that school officials considered trying to commit Mr. Cruz in 2016 appeared to be another in a string of missed opportunities to deal with the troubled young man.
Local sheriff’s deputies were repeatedly called to Mr. Cruz’s residences but never found reason enough to arrest him. The F.B.I. did not investigate tips about Mr. Cruz’s apparent interest in school shootings, even after a woman called to say he had weapons and was “going to explode.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office later came under intense criticism after video showed one of its deputies, Scot Peterson, standing outside of the school for nearly an hour as the rampage continued. He is awaiting trial on charges of felony neglect of a child. Three other deputies were fired over their response to the shooting, and Gov. Ron DeSantis made good on a campaign promise by replacing the sheriff after taking office in 2019.