March 13, 2018 / 5:48 PM / 8 days ago

Florida prosecutor seeking death penalty for accused Parkland gunman

(Reuters) - Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the former student 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.

Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool

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

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

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

Florida Governor Rick Scott, through his spokesman John Tupps, said he supported the death penalty for Cruz, saying the state would hold the accused gunman accountable “to the fullest extent of the law.”

After the filing, Cruz’s attorneys repeated their offer for Cruz to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty. Cruz 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 plead either “guilty” or “not guilty.” 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 Cruz’s behalf, Finkelstein said.

“We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein wrote.

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

But Ashley Schulman, a 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas senior who was on the opposite end of the campus when shots rang out, said she supported the decision to seek the death penalty.

“I think the punishment will give some justice to the families of the victims,” she told Reuters.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis

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