FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Friday’s guilty plea was a rare time the public heard from Nikolas Cruz more than three years after he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Appearing thin, he spoke softly to Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer as he pleaded guilty to a November 2018 jail guard attack. Cruz, 23, plans to plead guilty to the Feb. 14, 2018 Parkland massacre on Wednesday, his attorneys said in court.
Before she could accept his plea Friday morning, Scherer needed to evaluate Cruz and ensure he understood what was happening and what it meant for his future.
She made sure he knew that his guilt in the attack of a jail guard caught on camera would be used by prosecutors seeking the death penalty in the school shooting case.
Scherer also asked Cruz: “Do you suffer from any physical or mental illness?”
“I was told in the past, but I don’t believe I have any issues,” he answered. “I was told in the past I had anxiety and depression.”
Cruz also said he hadn’t taken any medication in a year.
Last week, Cruz appeared distressed at pretrial proceedings for the jail battery case, rubbing his forehead and blowing his nose as his counsel provided him tissues.
During preliminary jury selections last week, prosecutors objected to Cruz having what they said was drawing paper and what appeared to be colored pencils at the defense table.
Defense attorney Gabe Ermine in his comments indicated that this process is taking a toll on his client.
“Why does he need colored pencils and drawing paper?” the judge asked.
“He is clearly upset, he is visually upset right now. I am trying to keep him calm,” Ermine answered.
“As long as he is not coloring with crayons as if he’s a child that’s fine but that is not appropriate,” the judge said. “If he wants to take notes that’s fine, if he wants to sit there that’s fine, if he wants to participate that’s fine, if he wants to be quiet that’s fine, but as far as coloring pictures on a picture book that does not assist him or you in selecting a fair and impartial jury, it gives an impression that he’s a child.”
Cruz’s attorneys are hoping that the guilty plea may help them prevent the death penalty. If Scherer accepts a guilty plea in the Parkland case next week, there will still be a penalty phase in the coming months where a 12-person jury would recommend to the judge whether Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison or death.