Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, offered to donate any money he might be entitled to from his late mother’s estate to a victims’ fund. The offer was made during an appearance in Broward Circuit Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Wednesday.
Cruz appeared at a hearing before Judge Elizabeth Scherer to determine whether he qualifies for indigent status and is therefore entitled to a public defender for the duration of his case. Scherer planned to issue a ruling later this month.
As lawyers outlined various accounts with Cruz's name on them, Melisa McNeill, his public defender, said the estate of his mother, Lynda Cruz, is tied up in probate with multiple claims and lawsuits against it. McNeill asked the court to discount that money anyway.
“Mr. Cruz does not want those funds, whatever money that he is entitled to,” McNeill said. “He does not want that money. He would like that money donated to an organization that the victims’ family believes would be able to facilitate healing in our community, or an opportunity to educate our community about the issues that have ripened over the last four or five months.”
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Howard Finkelstein, another public defender, told Scherer, “let it go to those who have been hurt.”
The lawyers did not say which fund they had in mind, nor was it known if the families of the 14 students and three faculty members killed would accept any gesture from Cruz.
Appearing in court wearing a prison jumpsuit and shackles, Cruz spent virtually the entire time with his head bowed, staring down toward his lap.
Credit: Taimy Alvarez
Credit: Taimy Alvarez
NPR reported that Finkelstein reiterated that Cruz was prepared to plead guilty if the death penalty were taken off the table.
“The state of Florida is not allowing Mr. Cruz to choose his own punishment for the murder of 17 people,” Tate said in response.
Finkelstein argued that if a private lawyer steps in, it would cost taxpayers thousands more than a public defender.
Among the finances examined during the hearing was a Wells Fargo bank account that had more than $17,000 a year ago, but now has only $353.43. According to NPR, Cruz stands to receive $25,000 from his mother's life insurance police, and possibly more from her estate. Cruz also owns Microsoft stock worth approximately $2,227. The value of Lynda Cruz's estate is to be determined.
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