The gunman accused of killing 14 students and three members of staff at a high school in Florida back in 2018 will plead guilty to their murders, his lawyers have said.
The guilty plea by Nikolas Cruz will set up a penalty phase in which he would be fighting against the death penalty and hoping for life without parole.
The now 23-year-old is accused of 17 counts of first-degree murder, 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder and attacking a jail guard nine months after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
His lawyers have said he will plead guilty to all of the offences.
The pleas will come with no conditions and prosecutors still plan to seek the death penalty – but this will be decided by a jury and the trial has not yet been scheduled.
Cruz and his lawyers have long offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence but prosecutors have repeatedly rejected the deal, saying the case deserves a death sentence.
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- Florida School Shooting
The shooting shook Parkland, an upper-middle-class community outside Fort Lauderdale with little crime, back in 2018.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a campus of 3,200 students, is one of the top-ranked public schools in the state, and Cruz had been a long-time troubled student there.
Since pre-school, he had been treated for emotional problems and was known by neighbours for torturing animals.
He alternated between traditional schools and those for troubled students, joining the successful high school from the 10th grade.
But his troubles remained, and he was expelled about a year before the attack after numerous incidents of unusual behaviour and at least one fight.
He began posting pictures online of himself with guns and made videos threatening to commit violence, including at the school.
It was around this time he purchased the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he would use in the shooting.
When Cruz’s mother died of pneumonia in November 2017, leaving him and his brother orphaned, he began staying with friends taking his 10 guns with him.
Someone worried about his emotional state, called the FBI a month before the shooting to warn agents he might kill people – but this information was never forwarded to the agency’s South Florida office.
In the weeks before the shooting, Cruz began making videos saying he was going to be the “next school shooter of 2018” and in one shortly before the massacre, he said: “Today is the day. Today it all begins. The day of my massacre shall begin.”
The shooting happened on Valentine’s Day, minutes before the end of the school day.
Cruz, who was 19 at the time, arrived at the campus that afternoon in an Uber, assembled his rifle in a bathroom and then opened fire at students and staff.
The shooting sparked huge campaigns across the US for changes to be made to gun laws.
His trial has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and arguments between the prosecution and defence over what evidence and testimony should be presented to the jury.
Some victims’ families had expressed frustration over the delays but the president of the group they formed expressed relief that the case now seems closer to resolution.
“We just hope the system gives him justice,” said Tony Montalto, of Stand With Parkland. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.
Preparations were being made to begin jury selection within the next few months, with the decision by Cruz and his attorneys to plead guilty arriving unexpectedly.
He had been set to go on trial next week for the attack on the Boward County jail guard.