Florida school shooting suspect pleads guilty in hope of avoiding death penalty

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Florida school shooting suspect pleads guilty in hope of avoiding death penalty

Nikolas Cruz said he was 'very sorry' when addressing the families of the victims, among them Jewish students and a teacher

A former student at a Florida high school has pleaded guilty to one of America’s deadliest mass shootings.

17 students and teachers, some of them Jewish, were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018.

This week Nikolas Cruz, 23, told the families of his victims that he was “very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day”.

He entered guilty pleas to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder – for each of the wounded victims – in the Valentine’s Day attack.

Students Alyssa Alhadeff, Jaime Guttenberg, Meadow Pollack and Alex Schachter, and Scott Beigel, a teacher, were among the Jewish victims of the mass shooting.

Cruz was a 19-year-old expelled student with a history of mental health and behavioral issues at the time of the “cold, calculated and premeditated” killings, Broward County’s State’s Attorney Office in Broward County said in court documents.

Because prosecutors have vowed to seek the death penalty, his change of plea from not guilty would open the penalty phase in which a jury would decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or death.

Cruz said he believed the families of the victims should decide “whether I live or die.”

In Florida, juries determine whether to impose a death sentence. If prosecutors are not willing to drop the potential death penalty as part of any plea deal that may be struck with Cruz, then a jury would decide.

Before accepting his plea, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked him if he understood the impact the assault case could have in the penalty phase of the murder case.

Some of the teenagers who survived the deadly rampage formed “March for Our Lives,” an organization that called for gun control legislation such as a ban on assault-style rifles.

In March 2018, the group held a nationally televised march in Washington that sparked hundreds of similar rallies worldwide.

Cruz was 18 when he legally purchased the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting from a licensed gun dealer.

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