A former student has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people during a rampage at his high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for one of America's deadliest school shootings.
Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom shook their heads or broke down in tears as Nikolas Cruz entered his pleas and later apologised for his crimes.
"Today we saw a cold and calculating killer confess to the murder of my daughter Gina and 16 other innocent victims at their school," Tony Montalto said.
"His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family. Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison."
The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on January 4.
Cruz entered his pleas after answering a long list of questions from Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency.
He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the February 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.
As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologized, saying, "I'm very sorry for what I did. ... I can't live with myself sometimes."
He also added that he wished it was up to the survivors to determine whether he lived or died.
Anthony Borges, who was shot five times and severely wounded in the attack, told reporters he accepted Cruz's apology, but noted that it was not up to him to decide the confessed murderer's fate.
"He made a decision to shoot the school," Borges said. "I am not God to make the decision to kill him or not. That's not my decision."
Following the pleas Wednesday, former Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the murders.
Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine's Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said.
They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behaviour that dated back to preschool.
Australian Associated Press