Wednesday , March 14, 2018 - 10:55 AM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
The 19-year-old charged with carrying out the massacre in a Parkland, Florida, high school is set to appear in court Wednesday, one month after the shooting rampage killed 17 people and injured as many.
The arraignment occurred against the backdrop of widespread student rallies against gun violence nationwide, and it comes a day after prosecutors said they would seek a death sentence for Nikolas Cruz, who police say returned to his former school on Feb. 14 and fired round after round at students and faculty alike.
Cruz has made brief court appearances since the massacre, but his arraignment comes as the case has shifted in recent days, with a grand jury handing down a 34-count indictment last week and prosecutors announcing their decision on the death penalty this week.
The fallout from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continued to reverberate across the country, with students at thousands of schools walking out of class Wednesday morning to mark one month since the shooting. Most of the walkouts were scheduled to last for 17 minutes in a symbolic tribute to the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas.
The shooting rampage has also prompted several investigations into how officials handled warnings about Cruz beforehand and how they reacted to the shooting itself. Local, state and federal authorities are looking into how the FBI and the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to repeated warnings about Cruz’s potential for carrying out a school shooting; whether multiple sheriff’s deputies responding to the shooting remained outside the school, as officers from a nearby city have alleged; and the precise nature of all the interactions Cruz had with authorities.
Cruz’s arraignment and status hearing Wednesday also follow on the heels of his attorneys - who have acknowledged his guilt - withdrawing a not-guilty plea in court and instead saying that their client intends to “stand mute” in response to the charges. Last week, Cruz made a brief court appearance, during which he did not speak and instead stared at his shackled hands while a judge again denied him bond.
His attorneys have offered to have Cruz plead guilty in exchange for 34 consecutive life sentences without parole. They did not want to have him plead not guilty because it “just seemed wrong in this case,” said Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender, but they also did not want to submit a guilty plea while the death penalty remained a possibility.
Finkelstein has said that it would be wrong to execute Cruz when officials missed so many red flags leading up to the shooting, which “should never have happened.”
Prosecutors initially declined to say whether they would accept Finkelstein’s offer, though Michael Satz, the state attorney for Broward County, gave a considerable hint days after the massacre by saying it was “the type of case the death penalty was designed for.”
On Wednesday, Satz’s office announced its decision to seek a death sentence and cited what it said were several aggravating factors, including that the killings were carried out “in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner.” Finkelstein said his team still remains ready to have Cruz plead guilty on all counts in exchange for life sentences.
Cruz has been largely isolated since the shooting, according to jail records made public by the Broward Sheriff’s Office last week. He has been kept away from other inmates for his own safety, the records said, and most of his interactions with other people have been with visiting attorneys or the jail staff members monitoring him.
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