wjxt logo

Nikolas Cruz intends to change plea in Parkland killings

Miami television station reports that Nikolas Cruz will plead guilty

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Parkland school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A court hearing is set Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Florida for Nikolas Cruz, the man police said has confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a high school. The hearing in Broward County Circuit Court was scheduled abruptly Thursday and does not describe the purpose.(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Parkland school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A court hearing is set Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Florida for Nikolas Cruz, the man police said has confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a high school. The hearing in Broward County Circuit Court was scheduled abruptly Thursday and does not describe the purpose.(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File) (© South Florida Sun Sentinel 2019)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – At a last-minute court hearing for Nikolas Cruz, the man police said has confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a suburban high school, his lawyer said he plans to plead guilty next week to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Cruz was expected to plead guilty today to an unrelated case of aggravated assault while in jail.

The hearing in Broward County before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was scheduled abruptly late Thursday.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, also without citing sources by name, reported that lawyers would be present for a status hearing before the judge on Friday, but Cruz would not be present and the pleas would be entered at a later date.

WATCH: Hearing in Nikolas Cruz murder trial

Cruz would still face a jury to determine whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison, the report said. Prosecutors have always insisted that Cruz deserves death for the slayings.

The Broward County state attorney’s office issued a statement Thursday night saying Cruz's lawyers would have to comment on any possible guilty plea.

“We have to refer all of your questions to the defense,” the state attorney’s statement said. “There have been no plea negotiations with the prosecution. If he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase.”

Preparations have been ongoing for what would be the biggest murder trial in Broward County history, and one of the most infamous crimes ever in Florida.

Cruz, 23, was arrested about an hour after the attack with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on Valentine’s Day 2018.

His lawyers have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in return for a guaranteed sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors have refused to drop their pursuit of the death penalty. A guilty plea would both avoid a traumatic, lengthy trial and still allow a jury to decide Cruz’s fate.

Much of the penalty phase would likely focus on Cruz’s mental condition at the time of the slayings, with prosecutors emphasizing their horrific nature and Cruz’s intensive planning beforehand.

Tony Montalto, president of the Stand With Parkland group that represents the families of the victims, said Thursday night that neither he nor any parent he has spoken to has been informed that Cruz would plead guilty, but he is not surprised. Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter died in the shooting.

“There is very little doubt he murdered my beautiful daughter, Gina, or the 16 other victims. There is very little doubt he shot the other 17 people and terrorized all the other students at the school. We just hope the system gives him justice,” Montalto said.

When asked if he believes Cruz deserves the death penalty, Montalto said, “As a society, we need to disincentivize to the maximum extent possible anyone from attacking our schools, whatever form that takes.”

_____

Anderson reported from St. Petersburg, Florida.