MIAMI (CBSNewYork/AP) – The former student accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month will face the death penalty, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The office of Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz filed the formal notice of its intentions Tuesday. The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, is life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The action by prosecutors Tuesday does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has said there were so many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent the death penalty might be going too far. Finkelstein said Cruz would plead guilty if prosecutors opt not to seek the death penalty.
“Because that’s what this case is about. Not, did he do it? Not, should he go free? Should he live or should he die,” Finkelstein told The Associated Press last month.
In an email Tuesday, Finkelstein said Cruz is “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.
“If not allowed to do that tomorrow (at the hearing), out of respect for the victims’ families we will stand mute to the charges at the arraignment. We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein said.
If Cruz does not enter a plea, a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to keep the legal process moving along, his attorneys have said.
Ira Jaffe, whose son and daughter survived the shooting, said he respects the wishes of the 17 families whose children were killed and that time is better spent finding solutions to the problem of mass school shootings.
“Live forever in jail or die – I don’t care,” Jaffe said in an email. “Cruz will rot in hell no matter when it is that he arrives there.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)