Death penalty sought for Florida shooter

De­fense pro­poses guilty plea for life sen­tence as fam­i­lies brace for lengthy trial

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mark Ber­man of The Wash­ing­ton Post; and by Curt An­der­son, Gary Fi­ne­out, Ja­son Dearen and Ta­mara Lush of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Pros­e­cu­tors in Broward County, Fla., said Tues­day that they would seek a death sen­tence for Niko­las Cruz, the 19-year-old ac­cused of car­ry­ing out the shoot­ing ram­page at a Park­land high school last month.

The an­nounce­ment came nearly a week af­ter Cruz was in­dicted by a grand jury on

34 counts of pre­med­i­tated mur­der and at­tempted mur­der in the Feb. 14 mas­sacre, which killed 17 peo­ple and in­jured the same num­ber.

In a no­tice filed Tues­day in cir­cuit court, Michael Satz, the Broward state at­tor­ney, said the state in­tended to seek the death penalty for Cruz and would prove that the crime “was es­pe­cially heinous, atro­cious or cruel.”

Satz’s fil­ing in­cluded mul­ti­ple ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors he said war­ranted a death sen­tence, in­clud­ing that Cruz know­ingly cre­ated a risk of death to many peo­ple and that the killings were “a homi­cide … com­mit­ted in a cold, cal­cu­lated, and pre­med­i­tated man­ner.”

At­tor­neys for Cruz do not con­test his guilt, and they have of­fered to have him plead guilty if pros­e­cu­tors did not seek the death penalty and in­stead agreed to a life sen­tence in prison.

Howard Finkel­stein, the Broward pub­lic de­fender, has said it would be wrong for Cruz to be ex­e­cuted when au­thor­i­ties missed so many red flags and warn­ing signs pre­ced­ing the shoot­ing.

Finkel­stein said Tues­day that the pros­e­cu­tor’s an­nounce­ment was not un­ex­pected but again said that his team was ready to have Cruz plead guilty on all counts in ex­change for 34 con­sec­u­tive life sen­tences with­out pa­role.

Cruz’s at­tor­neys had last week filed court doc­u­ments with­draw­ing an in­no­cent plea filed on his be­half, say­ing that in­stead he would stand mute in re­sponse to the charges. While they con­tinue to ac­knowl­edge that he car­ried out the ram­page, they can­not plead guilty while Cruz could be sen­tenced to death, Finkel­stein said Tues­day.

This de­ci­sion means south Florida will likely see a lengthy prose­cu­tion with emo­tional tes­ti­mony about what un­folded in­side Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School. Such a case would be among the state’s high­est-pro­file re­cent prose­cu­tions, and it would also be a rar­ity af­ter a mass shoot­ing, as such crimes usu­ally do not end with at­tack­ers taken into cus­tody.

Fred Gut­ten­berg, whose daugh­ter Jamie Gut­ten­berg died in the shoot­ing, was an­gry the state de­cided to pur­sue the death penalty, not­ing how long cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment cases usu­ally last.

“My re­ac­tion is as a par­ent of a de­ceased stu­dent, I ex­pected that the state would have pulled the par­ents to­gether to ask what we wanted and they didn’t,” he said.

“This guy is will­ing to plea and spend the rest of his life in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. Let him do that and let them do what they want with him,” Gut­ten­berg added. “Why not take the plea and let the guy rot in hell?”

In other de­vel­op­ments, 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.

Mean­while, Florida vot­ers may get a chance to de­cide whether or not they want to ap­prove new gun con­trol re­stric­tions.

While Gov. 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.


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