Pros­e­cu­tors said

At­tor­neys for 19-year-old charged with killing 17 are seek­ing life in prison

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK BER­MAN mark.ber­man@wash­

they will seek the death penalty for the man charged with fa­tally shoot­ing 17 peo­ple at a Florida school.

Pros­e­cu­tors in Broward County, Fla., said Tues­day they will seek a death sen­tence for Niko­las Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with 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 J. 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 have of­fered to have him plead guilty if pros­e­cu­tors rule out the death penalty and agree to life 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 be­fore the shoot­ing. Finkel­stein said Tues­day that the pros­e­cu­tor’s an­nounce­ment was not un­ex­pected, but he again said that his team was ready to have Cruz plead guilty on all counts in ex­change for 34 con­sec­u­tive life sen­tences with no pa­role.

Cruz’s at­tor­neys had last week filed court doc­u­ments with­draw­ing a plea of not guilty that had been 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 if Cruz can be sen­tenced to death, Finkel­stein said Tues­day.

This de­ci­sion means that South Florida is 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 also would be a rar­ity fol­low­ing a mass shoot­ing — such cases usu­ally do not end with at­tack­ers taken into cus­tody.

In a com­pa­ra­ble case, au­thor­i­ties pros­e­cuted the gun­man who in 2012 opened fire in a movie the­ater in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 and wound­ing dozens more. His at­tor­neys also of­fered a plea of guilty in ex­change for a life sen­tence.

Ge­orge Brauch­ler, the district at­tor­ney who led the Aurora prose­cu­tion, said that choos­ing to pur­sue a death sen­tence was a dif­fi­cult choice, one that he said prompted im­pas­sioned ar­gu­ments from rel­a­tives of Aurora vic­tims who were in fa­vor of seek­ing death as well as those push­ing for a life sen­tence. Brauch­ler even­tu­ally opted to seek a death sen­tence, and the jury con­victed gun­man James Holmes and sen­tenced him to life in prison.

“You get to hear all the facts,” Brauch­ler said in an in­ter­view about that trial. “The pub­lic gets to know ev­ery­thing about this guy that we’ve in­vested this time and these re­sources in.”

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