FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – It’s a day many in the Parkland community and across South Florida have been waiting for. On Wednesday, Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder stemming from the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — the deadliest high school shooting in US history.
Cruz entered the courtroom just before 9:30 a.m. looking calm and wearing a blue sweater over a gray shirt.READ MORE: 'Why Should We Live Like This?': NYCHA Residents On Staten Island Say Gas Service Has Been Out For Nearly A Year
Also in the courtroom were victims and family members of those who died including Anthony Borges, who survived after being shot; Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed; Gena and Tom Hoyer, whose son Luke was killed; and Debi Hixson, whose husband Chris was killed.
Wednesday’s hearing started with Judge Scherer asking him several questions to assess his competency. She then explained to him what a life sentence meant. She explained that counts 1-17 carried a life sentence and asked if he understood.
He replied yes to her questions.
She then explained the prison requirements of counts 18-34 and asked if he understood. He replied yes.
She then asked if he understood that by entering a guilty plea to the counts that he would be waiving his rights to appeal. He replied yes.
Judge Scherer then read each of the counts and asked how he wished to plea. Cruz replied ‘guilty’ to each one.
WATCH: Nikolaus Cruz plead guilty to all 34 counts
Judge Scherer then accepted Cruz’s plea.
“I find that you are alert and intelligent, that you have made an informed decision with the advice of counsel. I find that you have made this decison after going over and understanding all of your rights and that you are knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waiving each and every one of the rights that I went over with you today,” said Judge Scherer.READ MORE: Corrections Officers' Union Sues Mayor De Blasio Over Vaccine Mandate
The defense then made a statement detailing the day of the shooting and those who were shot. Cruz then apologized to the victims’ families.
WATCH: Nikolas Cruz apology for Parkland massacre
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day. If I were to get a second chance I would do everything in my power to help others and I am doing this for you and I do not care if you do not believe me. I love you and I know that you do not believe me. I have to live with this every day and it brings me nightmares. I can’t live with myself sometimes but I try to push through because I know that is what you guys would want me to do,” he said.
WATCH: Emotional day in court for the victims’ families
The case will now move to the penalty phase.
Defense attorneys are hoping to avoid the death penalty and will likely present Cruz’s history of mental illness to jurors, attempting to argue for a life sentence instead.
Cruz said the victims’ families and not a jury should be the ones to decide if he lives or dies. He said he understood his stance was in contradiction to the law.
Given the case’s notoriety, Judge Scherer plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors for the penalty phase. Hearings are scheduled throughout November and December, with a goal to start testimony in January.
Last week, Cruz stood before Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer and pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, and three other charges in the case of the jailhouse beating of a Broward Sheriff’s deputy, nine months after the school shootings.MORE NEWS: With COVID Numbers Climbing Again Across Tri-State Area, Officials Again Push For People To Get Vaccinated
At the Wednesday hearing, Judge Scherer said she accepted guilty pleas. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison minus time served plus a year in jail.