MIAMI – Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty for the former student charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month even though attorneys for Nikolas Cruz indicated he would plead guilty if his life was spared.
Cruz, 19, is scheduled for formal arraignment today on a 34-count indictment, including 17 first-degree murder charges. The office of Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz filed the formal notice of its intentions Tuesday, though the action 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.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie Guttenberg died in the Feb. 14 shooting, was angry the state decided to pursue the death penalty, noting how tortuously long capital punishment cases last.
“I expected that the state would have pulled the parents together to ask what we wanted, and they didn't,” he said. “This guy is willing to plea and spend the rest of his life in the general (prison) population. Let him do that and let them do what they want with him.”
Ira Jaffe, whose son and daughter survived the shooting, said time is better spent finding solutions to the problem of mass school shootings.
“Live forever in jail or die – I don't care,” Jaffe said in an email.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, said in an email Tuesday that Cruz is “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.
“But we can't plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein said.
Meanwhile, Florida voters may get a chance to decide whether or not they want to approve new gun control restrictions.
While Gov. Rick Scott just signed a new school safety and gun bill into law, the state's Constitution Revision Commission may vote to place gun restrictions on this year's ballot. The commission, a special panel that meets every 20 years, has the power to ask voters to approve changes to the state's constitution.