FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The man charged with a 2018 school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder on Wednesday.
Nikolas Cruz entered the pleas for the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The 23-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student appeared before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
Scherer asked Cruz several questions regarding his current mental state and his understanding of his pleas and what making these pleas mean for his future.
She noted his best case scenario is serving life in prison without parole and the worst would be the death penalty.
"Life means you are in there for the term of your life, and you will not come out until you are no longer alive," Scherer said to Cruz.
Following the lengthy questioning regarding his understanding, Scherer began reading each charge, along with the name of each victim, to which Cruz replied "guilty" to every one.
Cruz did opt to give a statement following his pleas.
“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day," he said. "And if I were to get a second chance, I will do everything in my power to try to help others. And I am doing this for you, and I do not care if you do not believe me. And I love you, and I know you don’t believe me, but 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."
He then went on to explain how he believes drugs are negatively impacting the United States.
He ended by saying, "I believe it's your decision where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury's. I believe it's your decision. I'm sorry."
Judge Scherer followed this by ensuring that Cruz does in fact understand it will be the jury that decides his fate.
He and his lawyers clarified that, while it is his personal belief that the victims should be able to decide his fate, he understands that that is not the current state of the law.
A trial will be set to determine if he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Cruz was arrested in Parkland hours after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staff members dead. Police say he issued a confession shortly after his arrest, and video recordings he took before the massacre later emerged during which he appeared to threaten such an event.
Cruz's lawyers announced his intention to enter guilty pleas at a hearing on Friday.
At that hearing, Cruz also pleaded guilty to four charges linked to an incident in jail involving a Broward County Jail detention officer. According to NPR, Cruz was accused of hitting, kicking and trying to steal the stun gun of a jail guard.
The defendant will remain in the Broward County Jail until his trial.
A status conference will be held Oct. 26 at 9 a.m. for pre-trial discussions.
Jury selection will begin Monday, Jan. 4, 2022.