© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Accused Parkland High School shooter Nikolas Cruz sits in the courtroom during a status hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2019. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Pool via REUT

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) -Nikolas Cruz will plead guilty to murder in the 2018 gun massacre that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, his lawyer told a judge on Friday.

Cruz’s attorney told a judge his client will plead guilty next week to all charges in what was the deadliest U.S. high school shooting. He faced 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer noted Cruz, now 23, could change his mind before his plea hearing, which she agreed to set for Wednesday.

Cruz was 19 and an expelled student at the time of the Feb. 14, 2018 mass murder.

Prosecutors at the Broward State’s Attorney Office have said they will seek the death penalty for Cruz, noting in court documents that the shooting involving an AR-15 rifle was “cold, calculated and premeditated.”

Even if Cruz pleads guilty to the charges and avoids a criminal trial, he would face a penalty phase in which a jury would decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or death, said Paula McMahon, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

In Florida, juries determine whether to impose a death sentence. So if prosecutors are not willing to drop the death penalty as part of any plea deal that may be struck with Cruz, then a jury would decide

“There have been no plea negotiations with the prosecution. If he pleads guilty, there would still be a penalty phase,” McMahon told Reuters in an email.

Some of the families of the 14 students and three staff killed and 17 others injured when the troubled former student opened fire have rallied to call for gun control.

Yet a report by a state-appointed commission on the shooting recommended arming teachers, spending more on school security and mental health and training police to be more aggressive when responding to school shootings.

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