Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Parkland, Florida, high school will be guilty of their murders, his lawyers said Friday, more than three years after an attack closed something in a South Florida community. Done. Nationwide movement for gun control.

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The guilty plea will set up a penal stage where Nicolas Cruz, 23, will be fighting the death penalty and hoping for life without parole.

Cruise attorney David Wheeler told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Sherer on Wednesday he would plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Arguments will come unconditionally and prosecutors are still planning to seek the death penalty. It will be decided by a jury, with the judge hoping to begin the trial in January after choosing a jury from thousands of possibilities beginning in November.

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Cruz would also plead guilty to 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder. He was initially not present during the trial, but later entered the Broward County Courtroom to plead guilty to assault on a prison guard nine months after the shooting.

Cruz said he understands that prosecutors may use the sentence as a provoking factor when they later argue for his execution.

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The trial has been delayed due to the pandemic and debate over what evidence can be presented to the jury, frustrating the families of some victims and the injured.

Samantha Grady, who was wounded in the massacre and lost her best friend, 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, said she is happy that Cruz is finally accepting the loss.

“I hope we can really start the process of moving forward,” she said. “His punishment should be equal to the life taken by him, the stress and horrors he has caused to the whole community, the whole state.”

Mitch and Annika Dvoret, parents of the only victims who attended the hearing, said they were relieved that the case was finally moving toward closure. Their 17-year-old son Nick was killed in the shooting, while his younger brother Alex was injured.

Mitch Dworet said that he tries very hard not to think about the matter, adding that he wants to focus on his sons. But his wife interrupted, “We want justice – it’s time.” For them, it meant the execution of Cruz.

“We want to see him suffer,” he said.

Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was murdered, said in a phone interview that he also wants Cruz to be executed. “Death by lethal injection seems very peaceful to me. I would love to see the gallows in a public square.”

Following the shooting, Parkland student activists formed the March for Our Lives, a group that rallied hundreds of thousands across the country for stricter gun laws, including a nationally televised march in Washington, DC.

Cruz’s decision to plead guilty came unexpectedly. He was scheduled to go to trial next week for the attack on the Broward County Jail Sentinel.

Cruz and his lawyers had long offered to plead guilty to the shooting in exchange for life imprisonment, but prosecutors rejected that deal.

Attorney David Weinstein, a former Florida prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said that while pleading guilty to the murder charges, Cruz’s attorney will be able to tell the jury at the sentencing hearing that he has “accepted responsibility, shown remorse.” And have saved the victim’s families the additional trauma of a crime stage trial.”

The jurors also won’t be able to watch repeated security videos, which reportedly capture the shooting in graphic detail. His goal would be to persuade a juror to vote for a sentence of life imprisonment – ​​a death sentence to Cruz would require unanimously.

Cruz’s stampede crushed the veneer of security in Parkland, an upper-middle-class community outside Fort Lauderdale with little crime.

Cruz was a longtime, but troubled resident. The Broward sheriff’s deputy was often called to the home he shared with his widowed mother and younger brother for the mess, but he said nothing was ever told that would lead to his arrest.

Cruz alternated between traditional schools and troubled students.

He attended Stoneman Douglas starting in 10th grade, but his troubles persisted—at one point, he was forbidden from carrying a backpack to make sure he didn’t have a weapon. Nevertheless, he was allowed to participate in the school’s rifle team.

He was expelled about a year before the attack after several incidents of unusual behavior and at least one fight. He then started posting videos online in which he threatened to commit violence, including at school.

When Cruz’s mother died of pneumonia four months before the shooting, he stayed with friends, taking 10 of his guns with him.

Someone concerned about his emotional state called the FBI a month before the shooting to warn agents that he might kill people. The information was never forwarded to the agency’s South Florida office.

Another acquaintance called the Broward sheriff’s office with a similar warning, but when the deputy learned that Cruz was living with a family friend in neighboring Palm Beach County, he called the caller to that sheriff’s office. asked to contact.

In the weeks before the shooting, Cruise began making videos that he was going to be “the next school shooter of 2018.”

The shooting took place on Valentine’s Day. The students exchanged gifts and many were dressed in red.

Cruz, then 19, arrived on campus that afternoon in an Uber, assembled his rifle in a staircase and then set fire to the three-story classroom building.

Cruz eventually dropped his rifle and fled with his victims as police stormed the building. About an hour later, he was caught while passing through the residential area.

The shooting led to a state law that requires all Florida public schools to have an armed guard on campus during class hours.

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Associated Press journalists Frida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Kurt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida contributed to this story.