FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) – A last-minute court hearing for Nikolas Cruz will be held in Florida on Friday.
The Broward County Circuit Court hearing was abruptly rescheduled for Thursday and does not describe the purpose. However, WSVN-TV reported, without naming sources, that Cruz will plead guilty to all 17 murder charges against him. Cruz’s lawyers did not respond to calls, texts and emails from The Associated Press.
Cruz would also plead guilty to 17 cases of attempted murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, according to the report. The hearing will take place in front of District Judge Elizabeth Scherer, according to the court records. A trial date was not set.
Cruz would still have to face a jury to decide whether he will receive the death penalty or life in prison, the report said. Prosecutors have always insisted that Cruz deserves death for the murders.
The Broward County State Attorney’s Office issued a statement Thursday night stating that Cruz’s attorneys would have to comment on any possible admission of guilt.
“We must refer all your questions to the defense,” said the prosecutor’s statement. “There were no plea negotiations with the public prosecutor. If he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase. “
Preparations are underway for the largest murder trial in Broward County’s history and one of the most notorious crimes of all time 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 prison term, but prosecutors have refused to stop the death penalty. An admission of guilt would both avoid a traumatic, lengthy process and allow a jury to decide Cruz’s fate.
Much of the sentence would likely focus on Cruz’s mental health at the time of the murders, with prosecutors emphasizing her terrible nature and Cruz’s intense planning in advance.
Tony Montalto, president of the Stand With Parkland group, which represents the victims’ families, said Thursday night that neither he nor any parent he spoke to was informed that Cruz would plead guilty, but he is not surprised . Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter died in the shootings.
“There is little 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 justice to him, ”said Montalto.
When asked if he thought Cruz deserved the death penalty, Montalto said, “As a society, we must stop anyone from attacking our schools in any form as much as possible.”
Anderson reported from St. Petersburg, Florida
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