Nikolas Cruz to face penalty phase even if he pleads guilty, prosecutors say

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Parkland school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A court hearing is set Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Florida for Nikolas Cruz, the man police said has confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a high school. The hearing in Broward County Circuit Court was scheduled abruptly Thursday and does not describe the purpose.(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File) (Amy Beth Bennett, © South Florida Sun Sentinel 2019)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – If Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, prosecutors said there would still be a penalty phase.

During the penalty phase, the jury would decide whether to recommend to the judge that the confessed Parkland school shooter be sentenced to life in prison or death.

According to Paula McMahon, a spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office, as of Thursday night there had not been any plea negotiations in the case of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

There is a status hearing scheduled for 10:30 a.m., on Friday, in Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s courtroom, according to McMahon.

Cruz, now 23, confessed to the shooting when he was 19, which involved an AR-15 rifle and careful planning.

His defense attorneys did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday night, but their efforts have focused on keeping Cruz away from the death penalty.

While the death penalty hasn’t been taken off the table, the guilty plea would remove the possibility of a murder trial.

“I had this conversation with other parents, friends of mine, and they are ready for that,” said Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver was among the 17 killed in the school shooting.

But for Oliver, a trial isn’t something he’s looking forward to nor is it something he has mentally prepared for.

“I’m pretty sure it would not be comfortable. I don’t know if I could hold myself from saying anything or doing anything,” he said.

Several parents of the victims who spoke with Local 10 News Thursday night said they had yet to hear of the possibility of a guilty plea. But if it is a tactic by the defense to try and remove the death penalty -- at least for Oliver -- even that penalty, he said, wouldn’t be enough

“Nothing, not even the death penalty, would in any way balance what happened to my son,” Oliver said.

The grieving father is also among the parents who have turned to activism in support of gun control to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy.

11 p.m. report

If Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, prosecutors said there would still be a penalty phase with a jury.

Interview with Manuel Oliver

Relatives of the victims of the 2018 Parkland massacre react to news of a status hearing in Nikolas Cruz's case.

Local 10 News Assignment Desk Editor Wilson Louis contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Jenise Fernandez joined the Local 10 News team in November 2014. She is thrilled to be back home reporting for the station she grew up watching. Jenise, who is from Miami and graduated from Florida International University, also interned at Local 10 while she was in college.

Roy Ramos joined the Local 10 News team in 2018. Roy is a South Florida native who grew up in Florida City. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, Homestead Senior High School and graduated from St. Thomas University.