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Parkland killer pleads guilty to school massacre, apologizes to victims’ families

Jury selection for penalty phase to begin Jan. 4.

Confessed killer Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering 17 people and attempting to kill 17 others in the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting in Parkland.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Confessed killer Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering 17 people and attempting to kill 17 others in the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting in Parkland.

Cruz made a statement to the victims’ families after he pleaded guilty, saying he was sorry for what he did, and that he suffers from nightmares.

“I know you don’t believe me,” he said.

“Irrelevant, and we’re just one step closer to justice,” said Fred Guttenburg, whose daughter was killed in the school shooting, echoing several parents who were unmoved by Cruz’s words on an emotional day.

Cruz said he believed the victims’ families should be the ones to decide whether he lives or dies. “I hope you give me a chance to try to help others,” he said.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer clarified, however, that the victims’ families would not be able to make that decision.

The case instead will transition to a penalty phase in the coming months, and a jury will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison.

Confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz apologized to the families of the victims Wednesday, saying he was sorry and “if I were given a second chance I would do everything in my power to try to help others.”

Below is Cruz’s full statement:

“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day. And if I were given a second chance I would do everything in my power to try to help others. And I am doing this for you. 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 that’s what you guys would want me to do. I hate drugs and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana and doing all these drugs and causing racism and violence out in the streets. I’m sorry and I can’t even watch TV anymore, and I’m trying my best to maintain my composure and I just want you to know that I’m really sorry and I hope you give me a chance to try to help others. I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go – whether I live or die, not the jury’s. I believe it is your decision. I’m sorry.”

Scherer warned Cruz that evidence prosecutors wished to present during the trial could still be presented during the penalty phase. She also cautioned him that there is no parole with a life sentence in Florida, as in some states where an inmate could be eligible for parole within 25 years.

Cruz said he fully understood what his plea meant for his fate.

Defense attorney and legal analyst David Bogenschultz, who is not involved with the case, spoke with Local 10 News’ Christina Vazquez about the hearing. He said he was surprised by the lack of emotion from Cruz.

“One would think that in a situation like that, he is facing 17 counts of death, he may be emotional,” Bogenschultz said. “The more you see of him and the more he is able to now show the kind of emotion, you would think the less chance he has to escape the death penalty.”

Having Cruz plead guilty in the Parkland case allows his attorneys to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions and their focus is to save him from the death sentence.

On Wednesday, Scherer began the hearing by asking Cruz the same questions as last week regarding his physical and mental health, asking whether he has taken any illegal drugs or had been diagnosed with any illnesses.

Cruz responded that he had not taken any drugs and was experiencing some anxiety Wednesday, but has not been formally diagnosed with any mental illness.

Despite the anxiety, he said he understood everything the judge was asking and saying to him.

Scherer then read through each of the 17 first-degree murder and 17 attempted murder charges, naming each victim Cruz killed or attempted to kill at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the minimum mandatory sentences for each charge.

REPLAY: Full plea hearing for confessed Parkland school shooter:

The attempted murder charges each carry a minimum sentence of 20-25 years in prison and the murder charges each carry a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Cruz pleaded guilty to all charges.

The victims killed in the school shooting were:

  • Luke Hoyer
  • Martin Duque
  • Gina Montalto
  • Alex Schachter
  • Alaina Petty
  • Alyssa Alhadeff
  • Nicholas Dworet
  • Helena Ramsay
  • Christopher Hixon
  • Carmen Schentrup
  • Aaron Feis
  • Scott Beigel
  • Meadow Pollack
  • Cara Loughran
  • Joaquin Oliver
  • Jaime Guttenberg
  • Peter Wang

During the hearing, prosecutor Mike Satz outlined Cruz’s actions during the school massacre as the victims’ families wiped away tears.

Satz said Cruz took an Uber to the school and told the first student he saw, “You better get out of here. Something bad is about to happen.”

Satz said Cruz then entered the 1200 building, where he first shot Gina Montalto, who was sitting outside a classroom working on her computer. Montalto was shot four times and died of her injuries.

Satz said Luke Hoyer and Martin Duque were standing next to her and were also fatally shot. Hoyer was shot twice and Duque was shot eight times.

Another student, Ashley Baez, was shot in the leg but she was able to run away and survived, Satz said.

The state said Cruz then shot through classroom windows and also fatally shot athletic director Chris Hixon after he entered the hallway to investigate what was going on.

Coach Aaron Feis was also killed as he was about to enter the hallway and more people were shot after evacuating their classrooms when the fire alarm went off, Satz said.

A 12-person jury will recommend to the judge whether Cruz should be sent to prison for life or given the death penalty.

“I think killing him death by injection is too peaceful,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow, 16, was killed in the shooting. “Get him out of the jail and put him in the prison where he gets prison justice.”

Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was among the 17 killed in the school shooting, told Local 10 News last week that “not even the death penalty, would in any way balance what happened to my son.”

Oliver said he knows some of the victims’ families had prepared themselves for a trial, but said he was not mentally prepared for it.

Still, he said he believes “it’s time to speed it up a little bit. Every day is a new day that we suffer and we don’t see a final chapter in this.”

Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime, 14, in the shooting, tweeted Wednesday morning that while the news will be about Cruz’s plea, he will be focusing on his daughter’s life and this weekend he plans to honor her life through a virtual dance-a-thon.

The fundraiser is being held by the Guttenberg’s foundation, Orange Ribbons for Jaime, which helps support causes important to their daughter, as well as causes “that deal with the way her life was tragically cut short.”

Legal analysts say prosecutors will likely use Friday’s guilty plea in the battery case as an aggravating factor when arguing for the death penalty.

“Look how he acts when he is in custody. So, it is not a good factor for the defense,” Mark Eiglarsh said.

Given the high profile case, Scherer is planning to screen thousands of prospective jurors for the sentencing phase.

Hearings are scheduled throughout November and December, with the goal to start testimony in January.

Ever since the shooting, Cruz’s attorneys have been offering to have their client plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but the lead prosecutor rejected that offer, saying that Cruz deserved the death sentence.

His plea comes five days after he pleaded guilty to battery on a law enforcement officer, stemming from an attack on a Broward Sheriff’s Office jail guard.

For that case, Scherer sentenced Cruz Wednesday to 26 years in prison.

A status hearing for the Parkland case is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday and jury selection will begin on Jan. 4.


About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."