Nikolas Cruz apologized while pleading guilty Wednesday to killing 17 people in the 2018 Parkland school shooting massacre and now faces life in prison or the death penalty.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder for gunning down 14 students and three staffers on Feb. 14, 2018, using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he had been expelled a year earlier.
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” Cruz told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. “And that if I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others. And I am doing this for you, and I don’t care if you do not believe me.”
Cruz, who removed his mask to speak, said he was tormented by “nightmares” following his rampage and can’t “live with” himself sometimes.
“But I try to push through because I know that’s what you guys would want me to do,” Cruz said. “I hate drugs and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marjiuana and doing all these drugs and causing racism and violence out on the streets.”
Cruz said he was trying his best to maintain his composure before adding: “I just want you to know that I’m really sorry and I hope you give me a chance to try to help others.”
Cruz said he’s tormented by “nightmares” but said he was entered his plea.
Cruz also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder for wounding 17 others during his rampage. He was 19 at the time. The guilty pleas now set up a penalty trial during which jurors will determine whether he be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Scherer began the hearing by asking Cruz questions about his mental health and whether he was under the influence of drugs or had been diagnosed with any illnesses. He said he was having some anxiety, but understood Scherer’s questions.
Dozens of relatives of victims in the courtroom tried comforting each other as prosecutors detailed Cruz’s actions at the high school outside Fort Lauderdale. Some of the victims were shot as many as 12 times, prosecutors said.
Scherer said she accepted Cruz’s pleas in the case, as well as a guilty plea in a separate case for attacking a Broward County jail guard nine months after the massacre.
Cruz said he believe the families of the victims should make the decision whether he lives or dies. But Scherer told state law mandates a jury to make that ruling.
The penalty phase is expected to start early next year, with jury selection to begin in November, the Miami Herald reported.
“We want him to get the death penalty,” Mitch Dworet, father of slain 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet, said last week after Cruz’s attorneys indicated he would change his plea in the high-profile case. “We want him to suffer.”