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Will Nikolas Cruz get life in prison or death penalty?

Cruz to plead guilty to murdering 17 people in 2018 Parkland school shooting
Parkland shooting
Posted at 3:07 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 18:38:14-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lawyers for accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz said Friday he plans to plead guilty in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Cruz was also in a Broward County courtroom Friday to plead guilty to attacking a jail guard following his arrest in the school shooting.

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The 23-year-old Cruz is expected to be back in court Wednesday where his lawyers said he will formally acknowledge he murdered 17 people.

If there is no change in that stance between now and then, the question becomes what price does Cruz pay: life in prison without parole or the death penalty?

Defense attorney outlines latest in Nikolas Cruz case

"I think this is a way for the defense to try to reach out to the families and let them know Nikolas Cruz is willing to accept responsibility for his conduct," defense attorney and former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan said. "And to see if in any way that may soften their position to reconsider the hardline of a sentence of death."

A jury will consider what prosecutors and defense lawyers have to say in that next phase of this case.

A death penalty recommendation from 12 jurors must be unanimous.

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Kaplan said Cruz and his lawyers would have to hope mitigating factors, including questions about his mental health, might convince one or more jurors to vote against imposing the death penalty.

Nikolas Cruz in court Oct. 15, 2021.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Kaplan also noted that state prosecutors could waive seeking the death penalty, but that is deemed highly unlikely.

Legal experts said the sentiment of loved ones is a big part of the thinking for prosecutors, along with a wider message about crimes of such profound cold-bloodedness.

"I think there are certain cases, unfortunately, the severity of penalty, one of the penalties to include death, and I think this case certainly would be more consistent with imposing such (a) sentence," Kaplan said.