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Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 17 counts of murder in 2018 Parkland school shooting

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Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, more than three years after gunning down 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer noted that the murder counts Cruz pleaded guilty to carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with no parole.

Cruz, 23, and his lawyers last week surprised Scherer and prosecutors when they announced he planned to plead guilty to all 34 counts.

Image: (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP)
Image: (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP)

Also during last week’s hearing, Cruz pleaded guilty to four charges that he faced after he attacked a Broward County Jail guard nine months after the shooting.

The shooting trial has been delayed by the pandemic and arguments over witnesses and evidence.

The pleas will come with no conditions and prosecutors still plan to seek the death penalty.

Sentencing for the first-degree murder charges will be decided by a jury. Scherer has said she hopes to start the trial early next year after choosing a jury from thousands of prospects starting in November.

Much of the penalty phase would likely focus on Cruz’s mental condition at the time of the slayings, with prosecutors emphasizing their horrific nature and Cruz’s intensive planning beforehand.

The families of the 17 people killed, most of the wounded and others traumatized have reached a $25 million settlement with the Broward County school district in a lawsuit that had accused the district of negligence, an attorney for the families said earlier this week.

Cruz, armed with an AR-15, arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in an Uber, just before classes were over on Valentine’s Day 2018. He killed 17 people and wounded 17 more in what became the deadliest high school shooting in recent U.S. history.

Then 19, Cruz had been expelled from the school the previous year.

Cruz confessed to the attack, telling investigators he had brought the weapon and several loaded magazines stuffed into a backpack and planned to leave them behind in an effort to blend in with fleeing students, according to a police affidavit.

He was arrested about an hour after the shooting.

Cruz had legally bought the .223-caliber rifle in early 2017 at Sunrise Tactical Supply, a federally licensed gun store in Coral Springs, authorities said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Parkland student activists formed March for Our Lives, a group that rallied hundreds of thousands around the country for tighter gun laws. In addition to a nationally televised march in Washington, D.C., parents also made impassioned pleas for accountability and policies aimed at halting gun violence.

In a statement, March for Our Lives said it had no comment on Cruz and said they would “never dignify him by referring to his name.”

But the group said: “A single guilty plea does not bring closure as long as it is still possible for another person anywhere in this country to be murdered by a gun at school, in a place of worship, or in their very own home.

“We are appalled and disgusted that policymakers continue to waffle and play games, rather than do what needs to be done to prevent any more gun deaths. We are not at peace, we are as angry and determined as ever.”

Tony Montalto, the father of victim Gina Montalto, and other parents of victims also founded Stand With Parkland, which demands responsible gun laws, school safety enhancements and greater attention to students’ mental health.

“School shootings are a systemic and pervasive issue facing our country. As a society we should demand the perpetrators of these horrific acts be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Montalto said in a statement in anticipation of of Cruz’s plea.

“Everyday my family must deal with the devastation caused by the murder of our beloved daughter Gina. On days like today we also have to relive the tragedy that took her from us,” he said. “Sadly, nothing will bring back Gina or the 16 other wonderful souls that died at the hands of this murderer but all Americans must come together and do everything in our power to ensure that not one more family has to deal with these tragedies in the future.”

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.

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