Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing 17 people at his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida in 2018. His attorneys turn their focus to saving him and leaving a jury to decide whether he will receive a death sentence for causing one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
Relatives and friends of the victims sat in the courtroom gallery, broke down in tears and held hands after the prosecutor read a detailed account of the incident. Cruz then entered his pleas and later apologized for his crimes.
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” he said. “And that if I were to get a second chance I will do everything in my power to try to help others … I have to live with this every day, and it brings me nightmares that I can’t live with myself sometimes.”
Cruz appeared before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer who asked him one by one how he pleaded to each killing at the high school. Crus said “guilty” each time.
Prosecutors previously vowed to seek the death penalty. Therefore, his change of plea from not guilty will open the penalty phase. If prosecutors are not willing to drop the potential death penalty, the jury will soon decide whether or not Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison or death.
According to a poll from 17 News asking the hard question, “Is the death penalty an acceptable form of punishment for Cruz ”, 86% said yes while 14% said no.
Alisa Gonzalez, senior Social Work major and President of Students Demand at FAU says, “ I think we should focus on the victims and their families more than Cruz. He doesn’t deserve attention and I think we should focus our time mainly on supporting the victims’ loved ones and the survivors. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about the prosecution seeking the death penalty because I personally do not support the death penalty. I personally think that he should have to live with what he did every day for the rest of his life.”
Sophomore business in health administration major, Laura Acosta, says, “Pleading guilty was a good thing. He is owning up to his actions. This will also save the families victims from what would be a mentally draining trial…I do not believe Cruz should get the death penalty. I know many people want him to, however, that will not bring the victims back.”
Acosta also added a point about the importance of mental health care. “This is why I will continue to advocate for mental health awareness and affordable/accessible health care. I want to destigmatize the need for help. It’s okay to ask for help.”
Scherer scheduled jury selection for the penalty phase in the case to begin on January 4th. She also set a status hearing for October 26th.