Death penalty to be sought for high school gunman

FORT LAUDERDALE • Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the former student accused of murdering 17 people in a shooting spree last month at a Parkland high school, according to a notice filed in court .

Mr Michael Satz, the state attorney for Broward County, filed the notice with Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Tuesday, stating his office's intent to seek the death sentence for the 19-year-old, ahead of a court hearing yesterday .

The notice cited multiple reasons under Florida law for the death penalty.

These included the charges that Cruz "knowingly created a great risk of death" to many people, 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.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said he supported the death penalty for Cruz, saying the state would hold the accused gunman accountable "to the fullest extent of the law".

After the filing, Cruz's attorneys repeated their offer for Cruz to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

Cruz will be formally asked to plead to the charges when he appears in court in Fort Lauderdale for his arraignment.

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

Standing mute means the defendant will not plead guilty or not guilty. 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 Cruz's behalf, Mr Finkelstein said.

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

Mr Daniel Reed, the parent of a student at Stoneman Douglas, said: "I don't think death will bring back the lives of the 17 people who were killed and it certainly doesn't solve our ongoing issue... when it comes to gun violence."

But student Ashley Schulman said the punishment will "give some justice to the families of the victims".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Death penalty to be sought for high school gunman'. Print Edition | Subscribe