FORT Lauderdale, Florida – A last-minute hearing is scheduled for Friday in Florida for Nicholas Cruz, the man who police said confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a suburban high school.
The Broward County Courthouse hearing was abruptly scheduled for Thursday and does not describe the purpose. But WSVN-TV reported, without naming sources, that Cruz would plead guilty to all 17 murders leveled against him. Cruz’s lawyers did not respond to calls, texts, and emails from The Associated Press.
Cruz also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to the report. Court records show that the hearing is before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Shearer. No trial date has been set.
The report said Cruz would still face a jury to determine whether he would receive the death penalty or life imprisonment. Prosecutors have long insisted that Cruz deserved to die for the murder.
The Broward County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Thursday night saying that Cruz’s attorneys will have to comment on any potential guilty pleas.
“We must refer all your questions to the defence,” the state attorney’s statement said. There were no negotiations with the prosecution. If he pleads guilty, there will still be a penalty phase.”
Preparations were underway for what would be the largest murder trial in Broward County history, and one of Florida’s most notorious crimes ever.
Cruz, 23, was arrested about an hour after the attack with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Valentine’s Day 2018.
His lawyers repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence guarantee, but prosecutors refused to drop their pursuit of the death penalty. The guilty plea would avoid a shocking and lengthy trial and allow the jury to decide Cruz’s fate.
Much of the punishment phase will likely focus on Cruise’s mental state at the time of the murder, with prosecutors emphasizing their horrific nature and Cruise’s extensive planning beforehand.
Tony Montalto, president of the Stand With Parkland group that represents the families of the victims, said Thursday night that neither he nor any of the parents he spoke with had been informed that Cruz would plead guilty, but he was not surprised. Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter was killed in the shooting.
“There is no doubt that he killed my beautiful daughter, Gina, or 16 other victims. There is no doubt that he shot 17 people and terrorized all the other students at the school. We just hope the system will give him justice,” Montalto said.
When asked if he thought Cruz deserved the death penalty, Montalto said: “As a society, we need to discourage anyone as much as possible from attacking our schools, whatever form they take.”
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