Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to all charges against him stemming from the mass shooting he carried out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, and delivered a rambling speech about smoking marijuana.
He faces 34 counts, 17 of which are first-degree murder, carrying a minimum penalty of life in prison with no chance of parole and a maximum penalty of death. The other 17 counts are attempted murder in the first degree.
Prosecutors can use each of the attempted murder charges and additional murder charges as aggravating factors at his sentencing hearing.
Just before Cruz was allowed to address the families of the victims, former Broward County state attorney Mike Satz read through a lengthy description of the school shooting, naming each individual wounded or killed by Cruz as the tragic events progressed. Family members watching from the audience rows broke down as the former state attorney revisited the attack.
Cruz apologised to the victims and the families of the victims after his plea, saying if he was given a second chance he would “do everything he could to help people”, saying he “loves” the victims. He also gave a rambling condemnation of “smoking marijuana” and “racism in the streets” before again apologising to the victims of the shooting.
He had previously spoken about smoking marijuana daily, and in 2018 said he had heard voices saying “burn, kill, destroy”, NBC News reported.
He said he wished that the victims could choose whether or not he lived or died, and said he had difficulty “living with himself sometimes”.
The parents and loved ones of the victims watched from the observer rows, some shaking their heads as Cruz spoke.
A 12-person jury will ultimately decide Cruz’s fate during a penalty trial.
Cruz’s attorneys initially tried to broker a deal in which he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, arguing that such a plea would spare the community from having to relive the attack for weeks or months during a trial.
However, Mr Satz rejected that deal, saying he believed Cruz deserved nothing short of the death penalty. Despite stepping down from his position as state attorney in January, Mr Satz has remained the chief prosecutor in Cruz’s case.
Last week, Cruz also pleaded guilty to attacking a prison guard while he was awaiting trial.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced Cruz to 15 years in prison for attacking the guard.
Cruz’s penalty trial is scheduled to begin in January, with jury selection during November and December. Due to the infamous nature of the case, Ms Scherer plans to screen thousands of potential jurors to find an impartial group for the penalty trial.
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