Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing 17 people — 14 students and three staff members — at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., avoiding a trial but setting up a fight over his punishment for the 2018 attack.

Cruz’s defense team is hoping to avoid the death sentence that prosecutors are seeking.

Cruz, 23, faced 17 charges of first-degree murder and an additional 17 charges of attempted murder. He had initially pleaded not guilty to all of the crimes, but his attorneys recently said they would not contest his guilt. Instead, the group of public defenders who represent Cruz have asked the court to sentence him to 17 life sentences.

In court Wednesday, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer read each murder victim’s name aloud in court before asking Cruz how he wished to plead.

“Guilty,” Cruz replied 17 times.

The long-running case will next head to the sentencing phase of the trial, which will be presented before a jury. In that part of the proceedings, jurors will hear witness testimony and review evidence.

Jury selection for the sentencing phase will begin on Jan. 4 of 2022.

After his plea was accepted, Cruz apologized for his actions, telling the victims’ families that he now wants to help other people.

“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day,” he said, adding that he regularly has nightmares. “I am doing this for you, and I do not care if you don’t believe me. And I love you, and I know you don’t believe me.”

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