21 Oct 2021

Nikolas Cruz: Parkland gunman pleads guilty to murdering 17

5:29 am on 21 October 2021

A Florida man has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people in a 2018 mass shooting at a high school campus in Parkland, Florida.

PARKLAND, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: Sheena Billups prepares to lay flowers in a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for those killed during a mass shooting on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida.

A woman prepares to lay flowers at a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for those killed during a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Photo: 2019 Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz, 23, also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder for those he injured in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

He faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison.

One of the deadliest school shootings in US history, the incident became a rallying cry for gun control activists.

Cruz was 19 when he shot dead 14 students and three employees with an AR-15 rifle at his former school. Another 17 people were wounded.

The case will now head to a penalty trial in which jurors must determine whether Cruz is spared the death penalty to face life without parole.

(FILES) In this file still photo taken from a tv screen on February 15, 2018, Assistant Public Defender Hector Romero (L) and Public Defender Melisa McNeill (R), appear at a Broward County Court House hearing for Nikolas cruz

Nikolas cruz is escorted into court at an earlier hearing. Photo: AFP

Judge Elizabeth Scherer has said she hopes that the case - for which thousands of jurors will have to be screened - can begin in January.

In court on Wednesday, Judge Scherer asked Cruz how he pleaded to each murder.

Following the plea, Cruz tearfully addressed the judge and the victims' families.

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

Cruz added that he has "nightmares" about his crime and "can't live with" himself. He also said that he believes that the US would "do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana".

Lawyers representing Cruz had repeatedly said that he would plead guilty if the death penalty was not considered. Last week, his attorney, David Wheeler, told the judge that Cruz's lawyers were asking the court to impose 17 consecutive life sentences for the massacre.

The offer had been rejected by prosecutors, who in earlier court documents said they would seek his execution and prove that the crime "was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel".

Attack on jail guard

Last week, Cruz pleaded guilty to a separate charge of attempted aggravated battery and three other felony charges stemming from an attack on a jail guard nine months after the shooting.

On Wednesday, Judge Scherer sentenced Cruz to 26 years in prison for the jailhouse assault.

In a hearing on Friday, he acknowledged that his conviction in the jailhouse assault could become an "aggravating factor" in determining whether he will be executed.

Cruz had been expelled from the school in 2017. Students and staff later described him as an "outcast" and troublemaker.

He had previously been investigated by local police and the Department of Children and Family Services after posting evidence of self-harm on the Snapchat app.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) later admitted it did not properly follow up on a tip-off about Cruz the month before the shooting.

Many of the shooting's survivors went on to become prominent advocates for gun legislation reform and have demanded that action be taken to prevent similar incidents.

In an event marking the third anniversary of the shooting in February, US President Joe Biden called for Congress to pass gun law reforms, including a ban on assault weapons and an end to legal immunity for gun manufacturers.

"We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change," Biden said. "The time to act is now."


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