Nikolas Cruz wants the victims of his Valentine’s Day rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their families to choose a charity to receive any money he’s got coming to him, his lawyer said Wednesday.
He doesn’t want any money from his mother’s life insurance policy or any other source of income, defense attorney Melisa McNeill said.
“He would like that money donated to an organization that the victims’ families believe could facilitate healing in our community,” she said.
Cruz, 19, was in court Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether he has too much money to expect taxpayers to foot the bill for his legal defense. He is now represented by the Broward Public Defender’s Office, which handles clients who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers.
But whether Cruz falls into that category remains an open question — one that Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said Wednesday she will not answer immediately.
Cruz, dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, kept his head lowered throughout the hearing and did not speak. His brother, Zachary Cruz, attended the hearing and also did not speak.
Court records from his late mother’s probate case show Nikolas Cruz stands to receive $25,000 from a life insurance policy. McNeill said her office cannot help Cruz access the insurance money.
At one point, the records showed, he had more than $12,000 in a bank account.
That balance was down to $353.43 as of April 5, said McNeill.
Cruz also may have a claim to at least a portion of 24 shares of Microsoft stock purchased in 2003, according to his lawyers. Together, the shares are worth around $2,227.
His mother, Lynda Cruz, received an annuity payment of $3,333 last September, and defense lawyers last month wanted to know whether future payments are pending and whether Cruz can claim any of it.
He does not have access to those funds, McNeill said Wednesday — and further payments have not been deposited since last September.
Even with those assets, Cruz would be hard pressed to find a lawyer willing to take the case with no guarantee of future payments. Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted, and death penalty cases are notoriously time consuming and expensive.
“One of our concerns is that a private lawyer may come in… and bill taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
There is no current estimate of Cruz’s assets that show him with the kind of income needed to pay a private lawyer to take on the case — Cruz would end up declaring financial indigency within weeks or months, and taxpayers would end up footing the bill for his defense anyway.
“The costs on this case are going to be astronomical,” said Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy.
Defense lawyers also asked Scherer to consider that Cruz is likely to be named a defendant in numerous civil lawsuits being planned by family members of the victims.
The Public Defender’s Office has indicated that Cruz is willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, an outcome they say would spare the victims and their families from having to relive Cruz’s rampage with multiple witness accounts and videos taken from surveillance cameras at the school and students’ cell phones.
But the Broward State Attorney’s Office has given no indication that prosecutors are willing to entertain such a deal.
“The state of Florida is not allowing Mr. Cruz to choose his own punishment for the murder of 17 people,” prosecutor Shari Tate said.
© 2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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