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Florida prosecutors seeking death penalty in school shooting

  • FILE- This Feb. 15, 2018 file photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz. Florida prosecutors announced Tuesday, March 13 that they will seek the death penalty against Cruz, a suspect in the fatal shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.(Broward County Jail via AP, File)



Associated Press
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The former student charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month will face the death penalty, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is scheduled for formal arraignment Wednesday on a 34-count indictment, including 17 first-degree murder charges. Cruz’s attorneys said he would plead guilty if the death penalty was not pursued in the Valentine’s Day massacre.

The office of Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz filed the formal notice of its intentions Tuesday. The action by prosecutors Tuesday does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached.

The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, 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,” 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. Finkelstein said Cruz would plead guilty if prosecutors opt 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,” Finkelstein told the Associated Press last month.

In an email Tuesday, 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,” Finkelstein said.

If Cruz does not enter a plea, a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by Broward Circuit 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 was improving at a hospital. Anthony Borges, 15, was shot five times. Weeks after being shot, he fell critically ill of an intestinal infection. After surgeries, his condition was upgraded to fair.