Saturday 17 March, 2018

Florida school gunman: Prosecutor seeks death penalty

(Image: AP: Nikolas Cruz, pictured in court on 19 February 2018)

(Image: AP: Nikolas Cruz, pictured in court on 19 February 2018)

The former student charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month will face the death penalty, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is scheduled for formal arraignment on Wednesday on a 34-count indictment, including 17 first-degree murder charges. Cruz's attorneys have said he would plead guilty if the death penalty was not pursued in the Valentine's Day massacre.

The office of Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz filed the formal notice of its intentions on Tuesday. The action by prosecutors does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached. The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, is life in prison with no possibility of parole.

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, and that the death penalty might be going too far. In an email on Tuesday, Finkelstein said Cruz is "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.

If Cruz does not enter a plea, a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to keep the legal process moving along, his attorneys have said.

Meanwhile, a student who is credited with saving the lives of 20 students by attempting to close and lock a classroom door during the attack was improving at a hospital.

Anthony Borges, 15, was shot five times. Weeks after being shot, he fell critically ill of an intestinal infection. After surgeries, his condition was upgraded to fair, his attorney and the hospital said. The boy's intestinal area has been sealed off and he is breathing on his own after being taken off a ventilator, family attorney Alex Arreaza said.

Borges' family has filed notice that they will sue Florida authorities to seek money to cover the cost of his recovery.

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