Prosecutors to seek death penalty for Florida shooter
Nikolas Cruz’s lawyer says he will plead guilty to killing 17 in return for life sentence
Nikolas Cruz in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 19th. File photograph: Mike Stocker/Reuters
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the fatal shooting of 17 people at a Florida school.
Cruz (19) is scheduled for formal arraignment on Wednesday on a 34-count indictment, including 17 first-degree murder charges.
The action by prosecutors on Tuesday does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached.
The only other penalty option for Cruz is life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Ira Jaffe, whose son and daughter survived the shooting, said he respects the wishes of the 17 families whose children were killed and that time is better spent finding solutions to the problem of mass school shootings.
“Live forever in jail or die – I don’t care,” Mr Jaffe said in an email. “Cruz will rot in hell no matter when it is that he arrives there.”
Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has said there were so many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent, and that the death penalty might be going too far. Mr Finkelstein said Cruz would plead guilty if prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty.
“Because that’s what this case is about. Not, did he do it? Not, should he go free? Should he live or should he die?” Mr Finkelstein told the Associated Press.
In an email on Tuesday, Mr Finkelstein said Cruz is “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.
“If not allowed to do that tomorrow [at the hearing], out of respect for the victims’ families we will stand mute to the charges at the arraignment. We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Mr Finkelstein said.
If Cruz does not enter a plea, a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by judge Elizabeth Scherer to keep the legal process moving along, his attorneys have said.
Meanwhile, a student who is credited with saving the lives of 20 students by attempting to close and lock a classroom door during the attack is improving at a hospital. Anthony Borges (15) was shot five times. Weeks after being shot, he fell critically ill of an intestinal infection. After surgery, his condition was upgraded to fair, his attorney and the hospital said.
He is breathing on his own after being taken off a ventilator, family attorney Alex Arreaza said.
The boy’s family has filed notice that they will sue Florida authorities to seek money to cover the cost of his recovery.
Meanwhile, Florida voters may get a chance to decide whether or not they want to approve new gun control restrictions.
While governor Rick Scott just signed a new school safety and gun Bill into law, the state’s Constitution Revision Commission may vote to place gun restrictions on this year’s ballot. The commission, a special panel that meets every 20 years, has the power to ask voters to approve changes to the state’s constitution.
The commission, which is expected to take a final vote on its proposals over the next few weeks, will consider raising the age of weapon purchases to 21, banning bump stocks, a ban on types of semi-automatic rifles, and extending the waiting period for gun purchases. – AP