By Rafael Olmeda, Brittany Wallman And Brooke Baitinger
South Florida Sun Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — His guilt was never really in question. Now he’s making it official.
Nikolas Cruz, the man who terrorized Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just minutes before school let out on Valentine’s Day 2018 is standing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, slouching, flanked by his defense lawyers, declaring himself guilty, one by one, of 17 counts of murder and guilty of 17 counts of attempted murder.
“I accept your plea,” the judge said.
Cruz asked for mercy. “I am very sorry for what I did,” he said, addressing the victims’ families but not facing them. “I know you don’t believe me .. I have to live with this every single day … I hope you give me a chance to try to help others.”
The pleas came after the judge carefully went over the gunman’s rights under the law. “The maximum penalty is death,” she warned him, which means “you will not come out until you are no longer alive … You are facing a minimum best case scenario of life in prison. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he said. He wanted to say something to the families of the victims. Not yet, the judge said before listing the attempted murder victims. For each of those counts, he faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
The families of the slain and at least one surviving victim glared at him as he entered the courtroom. Two cried. Others looked straight ahead, waiting for the judge to take the bench. When the guilty pleas started, the parents of the murdered children were stoic.
Annika Dworet, mother of slain victim Nicholas Dworet and survivor Alex Dworet, was unable to hold back her tears. She was comforted by her husband and others seated by her. Tony Montalto, father of slain victim Gina Montalto, let out a sigh as her name was called.
In terms of criminal justice, there’s only one question left without an easy answer: Will the state of Florida execute Cruz as punishment for the lives he ended, or will a jury show him the mercy he denied to those who crossed his path that awful day?
After the pleas, prosecutor Mike Satz stood at a podium just three feet away from the gunman, separated only by defense lawyer David Wheeler, and recounted the crime, shot by shot, victim by victim.
©2021 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.