FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - 7News has learned that the suspect in the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will plead guilty.
Rather than going to trial, 23-year-old Nikolas Cruz will plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and all 17 counts of attempted murder in the Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others.
The Parkland community reacted to the stunning turn of events, Thursday night.
“I found this guy guilty since the last four years,” said artist Manuel Oliver, the father of victim Joaquin Oliver. “That’s the reality. My son is not here. Joaquin is not here.”
Cruz had already confessed to the killings of students and staff at the Parkland school on Feb. 14, 2018.
“We all know he is guilty, and finally, he knows he is guilty and will share that,” said Oliver. “That is fine.”
Cruz’s defense team said their client would plead guilty for life in prison without parole if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. That offer had been denied by prosecutors.
“I’m glad it is not that easy to get rid of the death penalty. It’s not like, ‘I’m guilty, now I won’t die because of this,'” said Oliver.
The Public Defender’s Office told 7News they could not confirm nor deny that Cruz would in fact be pleading guilty.
Cruz’s attorneys will officially announce their client’s plea on Friday morning.
“I’m hoping this is a big step to some kind of closure,” said former Stoneman Douglas teacher Jim Gard.
Reactions also poured in on social media.
Not everyone supports the death penalty for Cruz. Cameron Kasky, an MSD student in 2018, tweeting, “The death penalty is archaic and unacceptable. This is not the [expletive] Stone Age.”
Meanwhile, Hunter Pollack, the brother of victim Meadow Pollack, tweeted, “Time to sentence this monster. Our families need justice to be served. It’s 1,338 days overdue.”
Rather than going to trial, the case is expected to proceed to the penalty phase. A jury will then be tasked with deciding whether Cruz receives the death penalty or life in prison.
Former Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, 7News’ legal expert, said Cruz’s attorney likely hopes that by admitting to the crime and not putting victims and families through a trial, it would be a benefit when it comes to deciding whether he should live or die.
“The defense is hoping to get one juror,” said Finkelstein. “If one juror out of 12 says he should live, then that is what the verdict will be.”
7News has also learned that Cruz will also plead guilty to battery on a Broward County jail guard back in November 2018. Surveillance video first obtained by 7News showed Cruz rushing and punching Sgt. Raymond Beltran in a brawl that lasted nearly a minute before coming to an end.
The battery trial was expected to start last week before it was delayed. It was expected to begin next week, but now there will be no trial.
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