FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — The man charged in the 2018 school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder, as well as 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree.
Nikolas Cruz appeared in court before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Wednesday to enter the pleas for his actions during the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The judge asked the 23-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student how he pleaded to each count, one by one.
After pleading guilty, Cruz delivered a statement to the victims in the shooting, in which he apologized.
“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day," he said. "And if I were to get a second chance, I will do everything in my power to try to help others. And I am doing this for you, and 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’s what you guys would want me to do."
Cruz continued and explained how believes drugs are negatively impacting the U.S.
"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," he said.
Cruz concluded by saying he believes the victims should decide whether he lives or dies, not a jury, but he later said he understands that a jury will decide his fate.
"And I’m trying my best to maintain my composure and I just want you to know 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’s your decision. I’m sorry," he said.
The guilty pleas set the stage for a sentencing trial in which a jury will decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. The judge hopes that the trial can begin in January.
Cruz was arrested in Parkland hours after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staff members dead. Police say he issued a confession shortly after his arrest, and video recordings he took before the massacre later emerged during which he appeared to threaten such an event.
Cruz's lawyers announced his intention to enter guilty pleas at a hearing on Friday.
At that hearing, Cruz also pleaded guilty to four charges linked to an incident in jail involving a Broward County Jail detention officer. According to NPR, Cruz was accused of hitting, kicking, and trying to steal the stun gun of a jail guard.