Parkland shooter pleads guilty to all charges, offers apology

On Wednesday, Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people in the 2018 Parkland, Florida, high school massacre. The shooting rocked the nation and sparked the March for Our Lives movement.

Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/AP
Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Oct. 20, 2021. He pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder in the Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering 17 people during a rampage at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.

Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom shook their heads or broke down in tears as Mr. Cruz entered his pleas and later apologized for his crimes.

“Today we saw a cold and calculating killer confess to the murder of my daughter Gina and 16 other innocent victims at their school,” Tony Montalto said. “His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family. Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison.”

The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Mr. Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Given the case’s notoriety, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Jan. 4.

Mr. Cruz entered his pleas after answering a long list of questions from Judge Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency. He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.

As several parents shook their heads, Mr. Cruz apologized, saying, “I’m very sorry for what I did. ... I can’t live with myself sometimes.” He also added that he wished it was up to the survivors to determine whether he lived or died.

Anthony Borges, a former Stoneman Douglas student who was shot five times and severely wounded, told reporters after the hearing that he accepted Mr. Cruz’s apology, but noted that it was not up to him to decide the confessed murderer’s fate.

“He made a decision to shoot the school,” Mr. Borges said. “I am not God to make the decision to kill him or not. That’s not my decision. My decision is to be a better person and to change the world for every kid. I don’t want this to happen to anybody again. It hurts. It hurts. It really hurts. So, I am just going to keep going. That’s it.”

Mr. Cruz’s attorneys announced his intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.

Following the pleas Wednesday, former Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the murders. Mr. Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day 2018. Mr. Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual, and sometimes violent behavior that dated back to preschool.

The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally.

Since days after the shooting, Mr. Cruz’s attorneys had offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying that would spare the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. But Mr. Satz rejected the offer, saying Mr. Cruz deserved a death sentence, and appointed himself lead prosecutor. Mr. Satz stepped down as state attorney in January after 44 years, but remains Mr. Cruz’s chief prosecutor.

His successor, Harold Pryor, is opposed to the death penalty but has said he will follow the law. Like Mr. Satz, he never accepted the defense offer – as an elected official, that would have been difficult, even in liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1.

By having Cruz plead guilty, his attorneys will be able to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.