Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz keeps public defender, judge rules

Posted at 12:28 PM, Apr 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-24 12:28:24-04

MIAMI (AP) — Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz should continue to be represented in the death penalty case by a public defender at taxpayer expense, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Cruz has only about $28,000 in assets, and most of that he cannot immediately access, Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer wrote. She said that is not enough money to hire a private lawyer in a case of this magnitude.

"The court finds that this is not a typical felony case, or even a typical capital felony case," the judge wrote.

FULL COVERAGE: Parkland school shooting

Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He is being held without bail.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said in an email that Scherer "made the right ruling under the law and the unique nature of this case."

Finkelstein repeated that Cruz will plead guilty if prosecutors waive the death penalty, which they have declined to do.

"We still believe it is in the best interests of the families and the community to end this case now rather than take a 20-year march to impose the death penalty which will link them for decades to the person who killed their loved one," he said.

The state attorney's office declined comment.

According to the judge's order, Cruz's major known asset is $25,000 from a life insurance policy taken out by his mother, Lynda Cruz, who died in November. Scherer noted, however, that Cruz has no access to that money while in jail and it's unclear what in his mother's estate might benefit him.

"Whether or not (Cruz) will ultimately receive any monies from his mother's estate is not known," Scherer wrote.

Cruz also has $2,200 in Microsoft stock, $700 in a Broward County Jail commissary account and $353 in a bank account, the order says.

Scherer added that if more assets are identified for Cruz that "would afford him the ability to retain private counsel" she would revisit his status as indigent.

Another pretrial hearing is scheduled Friday.