As students rally across the country, Parkland shooter faces execution in court
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The 19-year-old responsible for the deadly Parkland school shooting one month ago was arraigned in court on Wednesday, as students across the nation walked out of class for 17 minutes in honor of his 17 victims and in protest of the nation’s gun laws.
Nikolas Cruz kept his head bowed in court and “stood mute,” a silent approach in which a defendant doesn’t plead guilty or not guilty.
Public defender Howard Finkelstein told the Washington Post that the non-plea was intended as a more respectful legal strategy than pleading not guilty, while still refraining from pleading guilty as the death penalty remains a possibility.
Cruz’s attorneys have repeatedly offered a plea of guilt resulting in multiple life sentences without parole for Cruz in exchange for waiving the death penalty.
The legal maneuvering in a Broward County courtroom and the widespread student protests today came after prosecutors announced in court filings on Tuesday that they will seek to put Cruz to death for the Feb. 14 massacre.
A Broward grand jury last week indicted Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree.
In its filing, the prosecution said that, among the aggravating factors spurring its decision, were that Cruz knowingly created a risk of death for many people, his crime was aimed at hindering “any government function or the enforcement of laws” and that the shooting was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
Another factor: “The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”
Cruz, through his attorneys, had previously expressed a willingness to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Prosecutors, in Tuesday’s filing, also ask the court to put several provisions in place in the event that Cruz’s defense intends to introduce documentation or testimony regarding their client’s mental health.
This could certainly come into play as Cruz’s defense team has said he battled with mental illness and depression after his adoptive mother died.
During a previous hearing, a public defender described him as a “deeply disturbed, emotionally broken” young man who is coming to grips with the pain he has caused. Classmates and others who knew him also described signs of mental illness, with some telling media outlets they outright predicted he might one day be a school shooter.
Cruz was arrested shortly after committing the Valentine’s Day killings and fleeing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus among terrified students. Seventeen students and teachers died in the shooting.
The teen confessed to being the gunman, according to a probable cause affidavit released shortly after his arrest.