Florida prosecutor wants death penalty for Parkland shooting accused

Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 of attempted murder

FILE- This Feb. 19, 2018 file photo shows Nikolas Cruz appearing in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Florida prosecutors announced Tuesday, March 13 that they will seek the death penalty against Cruz, a former student charged in the fatal shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)
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Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the former pupil accused of murdering 17 people in a shooting spree last month at a Parkland high school, according to a notice filed in court on Tuesday.

Michael Satz, the state attorney for Broward County, filed notice with Judge Elizabeth Scherer of his office’s intent to seek the death sentence ahead of a hearing on Wednesday.

The notice cited multiple reasons under Florida law for the death penalty. Those included the charges that Mr 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”.

Mr Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the attack on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 14 students and three staff died.

After the filing, Mr Cruz’s attorneys repeated their offer for him to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty. He is due to appear in court in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday for his arraignment, where he will be formally asked to plead to the charges.

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

Standing mute means the defendant will not plea either “guilty” or “not guilty”. Mr 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 his behalf, 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.

Daniel Reed, a parent of a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who initiated a petition seeking to have Amazon remove the National Rifle Association's channel from its offerings, said he was opposed to the death penalty for Mr Cruz.

“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,” Mr Reed said.