‘Not guilty’ plea entered for Nikolas Cruz, who faces death penalty in school shooting
Amy Beth Bennett/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Nikolas Cruz was formally arraigned Wednesday on a 34-count indictment related to last month’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school, for which the 19-year-old is now facing the death penalty.
Cruz was escorted into the Broward County courtroom in shackles, wearing a bright orange-red prison jumpsuit. He sat silent on the courtroom bench and kept his head bowed down throughout the hearing, as sheriff’s deputies stood guard behind him.
Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer entered a “not guilty” plea on Cruz’s behalf, after his lawyers indicated he would stand mute, or refuse to plead either innocent or guilty. Defense attorney Melisa McNeill emphasized to the judge that Cruz remains willing “at any time” to plead guilty “in exchange for a waiver of the death sentence” and instead spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Cruz allegedly opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, killing 17 people and injuring others. He was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School over disciplinary problems last year.
The AR-15-style rifle allegedly used in the massacre was legally purchased by Cruz a year ago, authorities said.
Last week, the Broward County State Attorney’s Office announced a grand jury indictment charging Cruz with 17 counts of first-degree premeditated murder and 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder. He is being held without bond on all counts.
The state attorney for Broward County, Michael Satz, announced Tuesday that he had filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case against Cruz.
Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, said the move didn’t come as a surprise, and he reiterated his client’s willingness to plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and agree to a life sentence in prison instead.
“It was not unexpected,” Finkelstein told ABC News in a statement Tuesday. “We still stand ready to immediately plead guilty to all counts — to 34 consecutive life sentences without parole.”
Cruz is scheduled to appear again in court on April 27, three days before his trial begins.
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