FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla – A last-minute hearing is set for Friday in Florida for Nikolas Cruz, police said police confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a suburban high school.
The Broward County Circuit Court hearing was sharply scheduled for Thursday and does not describe the purpose. But WSVN-TV reported without citing any named sources that Cruz will plead guilty to all 17 counts of murder against him. Cruz’s lawyers did not respond to calls, texts and emails from The Associated Press.
Cruz would also plead guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, according to the report. The hearing is taking place before circuit judge Elizabeth Scherer, according to court records. No trial date had been set.
Cruz would still face a jury to determine whether he faces the death penalty or life in prison, according to the report. Prosecutors have always insisted that Cruz deserved death for the murders.
The Broward County State Attorney’s Office released a statement Thursday evening saying that Cruz’s lawyers should comment on any possible guilty pleas.
“We must refer all your questions to the defense,” said the public prosecutor. “There was no plea bargain with the prosecution. If he pleads guilty, there will still be a penalty phase.
Preparations are underway for what would be the largest murder trial in Broward County history and one of the most infamous crimes to ever commit in Florida.
Cruz, 23, was arrested about an hour after the attack with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Valentine’s Day 2018.
His lawyers have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for a guaranteed life sentence, but prosecutors have refused to drop their death penalty prosecution. A guilty plea would avoid both a long and traumatic trial and still allow a jury to decide Cruz’s fate.
Much of the sanctioning phase would likely focus on Cruz’s mental state at the time of the murders, with prosecutors pointing out their gruesome nature and Cruz’s intensive planning in advance.
Tony Montalto, chairman of the Stand With Parkland group which represents the families of the victims, said Thursday evening that neither he nor any of the relatives he spoke to had been told that Cruz would plead guilty, but he is not surprised. Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter died in the shooting.
“There is no doubt that he murdered my beautiful daughter, Gina, or the 16 other victims. There is no doubt that he shot the other 17 people and terrorized all the other students in the school. We just hope the system does it justice, ”Montalto said.
When asked if he thinks Cruz deserves the death penalty, Montalto said: “As a society we need to deter as much as possible anyone from attacking our schools, whatever form it takes. “
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