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…
Read More News: Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to murder charges and apologizes for Parkland high school