Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Nicolas Cruz is to be convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder on Wednesday for the 2018 shooting massacre at a Florida high school, as his lawyers turn their attention to saving him from the death penalty.
Cruise, 23, will appear before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who will ask him a long list of questions to assess his mental ability. Shire will then ask him one-by-one how he pleads for each murder at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder for those who were injured.
His lawyers announced their intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.
Fred Gutenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he visited her grave this week and asked her to seek strength for Wednesday’s hearing.
“She was the toughest, smartest person I ever knew,” he said. “My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter despised threats and bullied herself amongst someone to stop it.”
Guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Given the notoriety of the case, Scherer plans to screen thousands of potential jurors. Hearings are scheduled throughout November and December, with the goal of beginning testimony in January.
Investigators said Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building in Stoneman Douglas on Valentine’s Day 2018. He said he shot victims with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles in hallways and classrooms. Cruise had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, appalling, unusual and sometimes violent behavior back in preschool.
The shooting caused some Stoneman Douglas students to start the March for Our Lives movement, which calls for stronger gun restrictions on a national level.
In the days after the shooting, Cruz’s lawyers had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying it would relieve the community of the emotional turmoil of the assault at trial. But longtime Broward State Attorney Mike Satz rejected the offer, saying Cruz deserves the death penalty, and appointed himself chief prosecutor. Saitz, 79, stepped down as state attorney in January after 44 years, but remains Cruz’s chief prosecutor.
His successor Harold Prior is against the death penalty, but has said he will follow the law. Like Satz, he never accepted the defense motion—as an elected official, it would have been difficult even in liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1.
By convicting Cruz, his lawyers would be able to argue during the sentencing hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.
Associated Press reporter Will Weissert in Washington, DC contributed to this report.