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