FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Nikolas Cruz is scheduled to plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder Wednesday for the 2018 shooting massacre at a Florida high school, as his attorneys turn their focus to saving him from a death sentence.
Cruz, 23, will appear before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who will ask him a lengthy list of questions to gauge his mental competency. Scherer will then ask him one by one how he pleads to each killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to the 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those who were wounded.
His lawyers announced that he would plead guilty at a hearing last Wednesday.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he visited her grave this week to ask her for the strength to get through Wednesday’s hearing.
“She is the most tough and wisest person that I have ever known,” he stated. “My daughter was a fighter for justice. My daughter hated bullies and would do anything to stop it .”
The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Scherer will screen thousands of potential jurors due to the case’s fame. The hearings will take place in November and December with the goal of starting testimony in January.
Cruz killed the 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said. They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Cruz was expelled from Stoneman Douglas one year prior due to a history of violent, unusual, and threatening behavior dating back to preschool.
The shootings prompted Stoneman Douglas students and others to start the March for Our Lives movement. This movement pushes for tighter gun laws in America.
After the shooting, Cruz ‘s lawyers had offered to have him plead guilty for a life sentence. This would save the community from the emotional trauma of having to relive the attack at trial. However, Mike Satz, a long-serving Broward State Attorney, rejected the offer and said Cruz deserved to die. He was appointed lead prosecutor. Satz, 79,, resigned as state attorney in January, after 44 year, but he is still Cruz ”s chief prosecutor.
His successor Harold Pryor is against the death penalty, but has stated that he will adhere to the law. He declined the defense offer, just like Satz. As an elected official in Broward County, which has a large number of Democrats and Republicans, it would have been very difficult for him to accept such a deal.
Associated Press reporter Will Weissert in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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