Lawyers: Parkland school shooter to plead guilty to massacre. He still faces death penalty

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Defense lawyers for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz indicated Friday that he will plead guilty to massacring 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, paving the way for a jury to consider whether he should be executed for his crimes.

The Broward Public Defender’s Office, at a hearing on Friday, said Cruz would change his plea next Wednesday. He appeared in court Friday to plead guilty to attacking a jail officer several months after the shooting.

Cruz, 23, is charged with murdering 17 students and staff members, and wounding 17, in what was the deadliest school shooting in Florida history. The change of plea would spare survivors, relatives of the dead and the public from the trauma of a public trial to decide whether Cruz actually committed the crime.

Still, a jury of 12 people would be asked to listen to facts about the murders, Cruz’s tumultuous upbringing and his mental health in deciding whether he deserves to be executed or stay in prison for life. Under Florida law, a jury must be unanimous in meting out death as punishment.

“We want him to get the death penalty. We want him to suffer,” said Mitch Dworet, the father of 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet, who was killed in the massacre at the Parkland school.

Dworet and his wife, Annika Dworet, attended Friday’s hearing — and said they are prepared to sit through the penalty phase of the trial.

“I just want justice to prevail,” Annika Dworet said. “I don’t want any more delays.”

Public Defender Gordon Weekes declined to comment, as did Broward prosecutors.

Cruz, wearing a dark blue sweater and khaki pants, did speak on Friday, but only to plead guilty to the November 2018 attack on a Broward Sheriff’s Deputy at the county’s jail. “I plead guilty,” Cruz told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.

His trial on that case was scheduled to resume next week. He faces at least about 14 months in prison for that attack, although Judge Scherer said she would sentence him at a later date.

It was on Feb. 14, 2018, that Cruz wielded an assault-style rifle and rampaged through one school building, gunning down students and staff members.

The shocking massacre sparked a wave of student activism, renewed political tension over gun control and forced the normally firearm-friendly Florida Legislature to pass a law tightening access to the weapons. The shooting also raised tough questions about whether the Broward school district did enough to protect fellow students from Cruz, who has a long history of fights, threats toward students and a bizarre fixation on weapons and Nazi imagery.

The mass shooting was never a whodunit — Cruz was a former student at the school, identified by witnesses who knew him and captured blocks away within hours of the massacre. He also confessed, detectives said.

The investigation revealed Cruz’s plan was well-orchestrated. Cruz made cellphone videos detailing his plans, took an Uber to the school and methodically went up and down the halls mowing down students and staff with an AR-15. Cruz, a former student with a long history of violence toward animals and threats of violence against other young people, also confessed to the murders, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Within days of the murders, the Broward Public Defender’s Office said Cruz would plead guilty in exchange for life in prison. The Broward State Attorney’s Office had forged ahead in seeking the death penalty.

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