The former student who fatally attacked his classmates and teachers in Parkland, Florida, pleaded guilty to the murder of 17 people and attempted murder of 17 others in 2018, leaving his fate behind – or spending his life in prison. or before execution – in the hands of a jury.
34 guilty pleas were listed in a grim courtroom filled with the families of those killed and injured at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. a terrible stage of punishment as the state seeks to put to death former student Nicholas Cruz.
Mr. Cruz, wearing a blue shirt under a black sweater vest, pleaded guilty after a judge read out a long list of questions about whether he understood the seriousness of his statement and that it could lead to his death. He answered “guilty” 34 times, as Judge Elizabeth Scherer read out every charge – including the name of every victim – and asked how he would like to plead guilty.
Armed with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle, Mr. Cruz, then 19, killed 14 students and three teachers and injured 17 others in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. “You will all die,” Cruz said in one of three videos he recorded on his cell phone before the shooting. Outraged Parkland students helped spark a national youth movement against gun violence.
The Parkland case will be a rare case of a mass shooter who will live to see a trial, as many of them will eventually die as a result of their attacks. The white supremacist who killed nine members of the Black Church in Charleston, South Carolina was brought to trial in federal court in 2015, convicted and sentenced to death. The mobster who killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, pleaded not guilty due to insanity in 2012 in a state court, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
From the outset, Mr. Cruz’s lawyers said he would agree to plead guilty in exchange for life imprisonment. But the chief prosecutor of Broward County at the time of the attack, Michael J. Sats, said he would seek the death penalty. Mr Sats’s term as state attorney has since expired, but he is still in charge of the case.
Defense lawyers did not discuss the reason for the plea decision, despite the risk of execution, but legal analysts said it could be beneficial. As William N. Nettles, a former United States attorney in South Carolina, said, once a defense attorney has determined a conviction is imminent, the case can only set the jury on fire.
“In cases like this, it’s best to give up a losing battle and instead join a battle you can win — and that’s a battle of judgment,” he said.
During sentencing, the defense can present mitigating evidence that is usually not allowed at the plea stage, such as the defendant’s childhood background or “anything they can do to convey something humanistic to the jury,” said George Brauchler, a former district attorney. … in Colorado, who was chasing a criminal who shot at Aurora.
“We have to go to the jury and say, ‘Our client did wrong and he admits he did wrong, but this young man can be redeemed at some level, even if he doesn’t deserve to catch his breath again,” he said …
In Mr. Cruz’s case, Judge Scherer will make the final decision after the jury makes its recommendation. In Florida, 305 people are on death row; From 2010 to 2019, the state executed an average of three people annually.
Last week, Mr. Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty to assault and other charges in a separate case involving a prison fight with a deputy sheriff that was due to appear in court this week. The judge scheduled a hearing on Wednesday in the large courtroom shooting to accommodate the families of the victims, a group of reporters and a live broadcast on Court TV.
Mr. Cruz had mental health and behavioral problems, many of which are documented by the school district. The families of the victims recently reached a $ 25 million settlement with Broward County public schools over the shooting.
The money will go to 17 bereaved families, 16 of whom were injured and 19 survivors who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other conditions, according to David Brill, who represents four of the victims’ families and one of them. victim.