Parkland Shooter Nikolas Cruz May Still Get Death Sentence Despite Expected Guilty Plea

The suspected gunman in the 2018 Parkland mass shooting is reportedly planning to enter a guilty plea and will inform a judge of his decision at a hearing in Florida on Friday.

Florida's WSVN-7 reported on Thursday that the 23-year-old Nikolas Cruz will announce his intention to enter a guilty plea at a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. In August 2018, he confessed to killing students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Broward County Public Defender's Office did not confirm or deny that Cruz would plead guilty on Thursday. Cruz could still be sentenced to death for the shootings despite a guilty plea.

While WSVN-7's report did not mention a source for the information, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel later reported it had confirmed the story, citing sources.

Cruz is also expected to plead guilty in a separate case involving a jailhouse assault. A trial on that matter was due to start next week.

The Sun-Sentinel reported on Thursday that Cruz will attend the Friday hearing but will enter his guilty pleas at a later date.

Cruz's attorneys had previously said he would enter a guilty plea if it meant he would receive a life sentence rather than death. Prosecutors had rejected that offer and continued to seek the death penalty for Cruz.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Defense attorney Melissa McNeil said at a hearing in early September, according to Local 10 News, that attorneys will not defend his actions but that information about Cruz's character should be heard.

"The whole concept on individualized sentenced is what makes the death penalty constitutional in this country," McNeil said. "There's no more certain way to guarantee Mr. Cruz another trial than to exclude mitigation that is relevant to his character, his prior acts, or the circumstances of the events."

Cruz has not yet faced trial for the February 14, 2018 mass shooting but if he pleads guilty, a jury will still be empaneled to consider a sentence. This means he could still be sentenced to death.

The Broward State Attorney's Office told The Miami Herald in a statement on Thursday that no plea deal had been reached with the defense and pointed to the so-called "penalty phase" when a sentence will be decided.

"There have been no plea negotiations with the prosecution. If he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase," the statement said.

Florida law requires a jury to be unanimous in deciding that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. A panel of 12 people would be asked to listen to the facts of the case, including mitigating factors such as Cruz's mental health, and make a determination about whether to recommend the death penalty.

Parkland Suspect Nikolas Cruz Attends a Hearing
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz quickly glances up at the prosecutors during a hearing on April 27, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Taimy Alvarez-Pool/Getty Images