PARKLAND — Nikolas Cruz, the alleged shooter at last month’s mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, now faces the specter of death himself as prosecutors make the decision to push for the death penalty.
Cruz, 19, has offered to plead guilty if promised that he would receive 34 consecutive life sentences (one for each count against him) and not the death penalty.
“We are not saying he is not guilty,” explained Cruz’s lawyer, Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, “but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table.”
While Cruz and his defense team seek to remove death from “the table,” it remains very much on the table for the 17 victims of the school shooting and their families. Fred Guttenberg, the father of one of those victims (14-year-old Jamie Guttenberg), actually voiced disagreement with the prosecution’s decision.
“This guy is willing to plea and spend the rest of his life in the general population. Let him do that and let them do what they want with him,” the bereaved father said. “Why not take the plea and let the guy rot in hell?”
In opposing the drive for the death penalty, Finkelstein offered by way of defense that there were many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and prone to violence, seeming to suggest that the system may have failed the young man and that he shouldn’t therefore have to pay the ultimate punishment.
There is perhaps some truth to that assertion, at least as it pertains to the warning signs. Cruz’s issues were such that he received care at a mental health clinic for a time, and students who knew him were noticeably unsurprised at the path the troubled teen took.
“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” 17-year-old Victoria Olvera said of the shooting. She was one of several peers of the alleged mass murderer to express such sentiments.
Additionally, the alleged shooter’s mother, Lynda Cruz, made literally dozens of phone calls to the authorities about her son’s troubling behavior in the years prior to the massacre.
If Cruz ends up not entering a plea before the court, a plea of “not guilty” will very likely be entered for him by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in order to keep things moving.
In either case, with his only two options for conviction being a death sentence and a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, things look very grim indeed for the embattled young man, which is perhaps the only silver lining for the friends and families of those slain.