Nikolas Cruz intends to plead guilty next week to charges stemming from the February 2018 massacre at South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – the deadliest high school shooting in US history – his attorney said Friday in court.
The plea would come more than three and a half years after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland that left 17 students and faculty members dead and injured 17 others.
If accepted, the plea would start to wrap up a legal chapter in a massacre that scarred a community and spawned a massive national protest movement against gun violence in American schools.
Also Friday, Cruz, 23, appeared briefly in Broward County court to plead guilty to charges related to a November 2018 jail assault.
But potentially the more consequential move was defense attorney David Wheeler’s statement in court that Cruz intends to plead guilty in the school shooting, which could avert a lengthy trial.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer set a change of plea hearing for Wednesday morning.
Cruz’s defense team had long ago offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole – but only if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors had rejected that, saying they were seeking the death penalty.
Cruz previously pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree, though he had confessed to police, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Details about what prompted Wheeler to announce Friday that Cruz intends to plead guilty weren’t immediately available. On Thursday, the Broward State Attorney’s Office released a statement saying “there have been no plea negotiations with the prosecution,” and “if he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase.”
The impact of the February 2018 shooting was felt far beyond South Florida, as survivors and victims’ relatives quickly spoke out and confronted lawmakers to plead for gun control reform. Other students in the US joined the cause, staging their own protests and school walkouts in the months after the massacre.
Guilty plea in November 2018 jail assault
As for the jail assault case, Cruz appeared in Scherer’s courtroom Friday to plead guilty, cutting off a trial for which jury selection began earlier this month.
Cruz was accused of attacking a jail guard in November 2018, authorities said.
Wearing a navy sweater, white collared shirt and tan slacks, Cruz on Friday stood at a podium and told Scherer that he understood the four charges against him in the assault case.
When Scherer asked him how he was feeling, he responded, “Feeling alright,” before succinctly answering questions about his communication with his attorneys and comprehension of the proceedings.
He pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, battery on a law enforcement officer, depriving an officer of means of protection; and use of a self-defense weapon against a law enforcement officer.
He faces a minimum sentence of about 14 and a half months for those pleas.
According to the arrest report, the incident began when a jail officer asked that Cruz not drag his sandals on the ground while walking around a dayroom area.
Cruz tackled and repeatedly punched the guard, then took his stun gun in a fight, according to the arrest report. As they wrestled over the device, the weapon discharged, the report states. Cruz struck the sergeant several more times until the guard regained control of the weapon, struck at Cruz’s face and took him into custody, the report states.
CNN’s Dakin Andone contributed to this report.