The suspect in the 2018 Parkland school shooting pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. A guilty plea avoids any trial and sends the case to the penalty phase which should come in the next couple of months.
Nikolas Cruz, then 19, entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day of 2018 after having been expelled from the school and reportedly exhibiting violent behavior and mental health problems on a number of occasions leading up to the deadly rampage.
After a prosecutor reviewed his grisly crimes to the courtroom on Wednesday, which was filled with relatives of victims, the 23-year-old said he was “very sorry.”
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” Cruz, 23, told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
“And that if I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others. And I am doing this for you, and I don’t care if you do not believe me,” he said, adding at one point, “and I love you.”
Some of the family members of the 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting in #ParklandFl said they weren’t brought much closure during the plea hearing of the confessed gunman. Many said the apology the 23-year-old gave in court rang hollow. #News4Jax @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/gx5OKf5Jlt
— Joe McLean (@JoeMcLeanNews) October 20, 2021
Tony Montalto, the father of victim Gina Montalto, called the apology “absolutely ridiculous.”
“This is all just a little bit of theater, and it allows the defense to be able to focus on attempting to save his life in the penalty phase of the trial,” he told CNN after the hearing.
“He’s doing it for our families?” Montalto told reporters after attending the hearing. “If you wanted to do something for our families, you shouldn’t have killed our loved ones.”
“If he wanted to apologize, he shouldn’t have murdered Gina and 16 other people that day.” –Tony Montalto, who lost his daughter Gina in the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Shooting, was in court today as the shooter plead guilty and also apologized to the families. pic.twitter.com/pIZMIs9Uvq
— Ana Cabrera (@AnaCabrera) October 20, 2021
Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke was killed in the massacre, said Cruz only had one person in mind with his statement.
“Self-centered,” Hoyer said. “Thinking about himself.”
Parents of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Luke Hoyer react to todays hearing. They called Cruz’s statement/apology an “ugly surprise” and say he “deserves no mercy.” pic.twitter.com/UFE6eK6nNI
— Lexi Nahl (@LexiCBS12) October 20, 2021
Many relatives of the victims sat in awe of what they saw as Cruz’s attempts to garner mercy while others broke down in tears.
In 2018, Cruz told police a “demon” voice in his head told him to “Burn, kill, destroy,” and that he had tried to kill himself in the past, admitting also that he had used marijuana and Xanax at the time.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer began the hearing by asking Cruz questions about his mental health, and whether he was currently under the influence of drugs or had been diagnosed with any illnesses. Cruz said he was not.
Scherer read off the names of his victims and asked for his plea in each case. She accepted Cruz’s pleas of guilty in all cases, as well as a guilty plea in a separate case for attacking a Broward County jail guard nine months after the murders.
Referring back to his drug use, Cruz made an apparently scripted remark with no sense of irony, saying, “I hate drugs and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana and doing all these drugs and causing racism and violence out in the streets.”
Counsel for the defendant had previously agreed to a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.
But prosecutors intimated that Cruz can plead guilty all day long; they are still going for the death penalty. In the penalty phase, the jury will deliberate and make its recommendation, but the judge will have the final say as to the degree of punishment in the sentence.
Mitch Dworet, the father of slain 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet, also attended the hearing. He told the Miami Herald that Cruz deserved to die.
“We want him to get the death penalty. We want him to suffer.”
Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was gunned down that day, was more blunt following Wednesday’s hearing.
“Death by lethal injection seems too peaceful to me,” Pollack told the Associated Press. “I’d rather see a hanging in a public square.”
The school resource officer who failed to intervene in the massacre, one Scot Peterson, is due for a hearing in December after being charged in 2019 with child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury after a 14-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
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