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Man pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting massacre

Oct 20, 2021, 8:11 AM | Updated: 8:56 am
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct....
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

    (CNN) — Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who carried out the massacre of students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, pleaded guilty in a Florida courtroom Wednesday to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Cruz faces a minimum of life in prison and maximum of the death penalty.

After pleading guilty, he apologized to the victims in a short speech.

“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day. If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others,” Cruz said. “I have to live with this every day, 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.”

Death penalty trials are split into two distinct sections: the guilty phase and the penalty phase. The guilty plea would resolve the former phase but not the latter, and Cruz could still be sentenced to death.

Last week, the Broward State Attorney’s Office released a statement saying “there have been no plea negotiations with the prosecution,” and “if he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase.”

The plea comes more than three and a half years after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which he killed 17 students and faculty members and injured 17 others in what is the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

The plea begins to wrap up a legal chapter in a massacre that scarred a community and spawned a massive national protest movement against gun violence in American schools.

The change of plea to guilty was previewed on Friday when Cruz, now 23, appeared briefly in Broward County court to plead guilty to charges related to a November 2018 jail assault. At the hearing, defense attorney David Wheeler said in court that Cruz intends to plead guilty in the school shooting, which could avert part of a lengthy trial.

Cruz’s defense team had long ago offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole — but only if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors had rejected that, saying they were seeking the death penalty.

Details about what prompted Wheeler to announce Friday that Cruz intends to plead guilty weren’t immediately available. Cruz had previously pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree, though he had confessed to police, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The impact of the February 2018 shooting was felt far beyond South Florida, as survivors and victims’ relatives quickly spoke out and confronted lawmakers to plead for gun control reform. Other students in the US joined the cause, staging their own protests and school walkouts in the months after the massacre.

Guilty plea in November 2018 jail assault

As for the jail assault case, Cruz appeared in Scherer’s courtroom Friday to plead guilty, cutting off a trial for which jury selection began earlier this month.

Cruz was accused of attacking a jail guard in November 2018, authorities said.

Wearing a navy sweater, white collared shirt and tan slacks, Cruz on Friday stood at a podium and told Scherer that he understood the four charges against him in the assault case.

When Scherer asked him how he was feeling, he responded, “Feeling alright,” before succinctly answering questions about his communication with his attorneys and comprehension of the proceedings.

He pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, battery on a law enforcement officer, depriving an officer of means of protection; and use of a self-defense weapon against a law enforcement officer.

He faces a minimum sentence of about 14 and a half months for those pleas.

According to the arrest report, the incident began when a jail officer asked that Cruz not drag his sandals on the ground while walking around a dayroom area.

Cruz tackled and repeatedly punched the guard, then took his stun gun in a fight, according to the arrest report. As they wrestled over the device, the weapon discharged, the report states. Cruz struck the sergeant several more times until the guard regained control of the weapon, struck at Cruz’s face and took him into custody, the report states.

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Man pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting massacre