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Florida prosecutor seeks death penalty for accused school shooter

  • Author: Jonathan Allen, Reuters
  • Updated: March 13
  • Published March 13

Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, appears in court for a status hearing February 19. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool

Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the former student accused of carrying out the shooting spree last month at a Parkland high school in which 17 people were killed, according to a notice filed in court on Tuesday.

Michael Satz, the state attorney of Broward County, filed the notice with Judge Elizabeth Scherer of his office's intent to seek the death sentence, ahead of a court hearing on Wednesday.

The notice cited multiple reasons under Florida law for the death penalty. Those included the charges that Cruz "knowingly created a great risk of death" to many people, that the shooting was "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," and it was committed in a "cold, calculated and premeditated manner."

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the attack on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 14 students and three staff died.

After the filing, Cruz's attorneys repeated their offer for Cruz to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty. Cruz is due to appear in court in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday for his arraignment, where he will be formally asked to plead to the charges.

"We still stand ready to immediately plead guilty to 34 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole," Howard Finkelstein, a county public defender, wrote in an email. "If we are not allowed to do so tomorrow, we will stand mute to the charges."

Standing mute means the defendant will not plea either 'guilty' or 'not guilty' to the charges. Cruz's lawyers have said they have taken this approach to avoid upsetting survivors and families of victims with the "fiction" of a not guilty plea. The court is expected to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf, Finkelstein said.

"We are not saying he is not guilty but we can't plead guilty while death is still on the table," Finkelstein wrote.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall)

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