FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBSNewYork/CBSNews/AP) – The former student accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Florida was arraigned Wednesday.
His lawyer had said Cruz would plead guilty if the prosecution waived the death penalty. On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a formal notice to seek the death penalty in the case.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer entered the not guilty pleas on his behalf after he stayed silent.
Cruz appeared in shackles, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He kept his head down and showed no emotion.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has said there were so many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent the death penalty might be going too far.
In an email Tuesday, Finkelstein said Cruz was “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.
“If not allowed to do that tomorrow (at the hearing), out of respect for the victims’ families we will stand mute to the charges at the arraignment. We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein said.
In every case, there is always the possibility of a plea deal. The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, is life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie Guttenberg died in the massacre, was angry the state decided to pursue the death penalty, noting how tortuously long capital punishment cases last.
“This guy’s 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,” he said. “Why not take the plea and let the guy rot in hell?”
Cruz’s financial assets were discussed Wednesday amid questions over whether he should be declared indigent, CBS News reported. A defense attorney indicated Cruz’ late mother had a $50,000 life insurance policy ready for disbursement, of which Cruz is entitled to half. It’s not yet been paid out. Cruz also has $12,000 available in his mother’s bank account, but he does not have access to it, the attorney said.
Three lawsuits have been filed where Cruz is listed as a party, the attorney said, and said it was likely more suits would be filed.
An indigency status hearing was scheduled for next month.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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