What to Know
- Nikolas Cruz is the accused gunman in the Feb. 14 school shooting in which 17 people, mostly teenage students, were killed.
- The suspect is in a Broward County court on Wednesday.
- A judge gave lawyers 30 days to investigate whether Cruz is indigent and, therefore, entitled to the public defender’s services.
Flanked by his team of public defenders and over a half dozen Broward Sheriff's Office deputies, suspected Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appeared in a Broward County courtroom Wednesday afternoon for a status hearing into whether he can afford to pay for his own defense.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer called the hearing last month after giving lawyers 30 days to investigate whether Cruz is indigent and, therefore, entitled to the public defender’s services.
Cruz's public defenders said he should continue to be represented at taxpayer expense because he likely does not have the assets to pay a private lawyer for what will rapidly balloon into a multi-million dollar case.
The Broward County Public Defender's office urged Scherer to continue classifying Cruz as indigent despite evidence he could have access to $30,000 or more. They said that's far too little to hire a lawyer for such a massive death penalty case that could last for years.
"That amount of money would have already been gone," said Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender. "Thirty thousand dollars is not enough to hire a lawyer in this case."
Scherer did not issue a ruling and said she would take all information under advisement before making a decision.
Cruz is accused of killing 17 and attempting to murder another 17 people on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
On March 14, when Cruz stood mute at arraignment and the judge entered a not guilty plea for him, lawyers discussed what little they knew about Cruz’s financial situation.
The public defenders currently assigned to represent him said they were looking into how much money Cruz may get in life insurance proceeds after the death of his mother, Lynda, in November 2017.
They also were investigating what he may be owed from the settlement of a malpractice case filed after his father, Roger, died in 2004 when Cruz was five years old.
Among the possible assets discussed at the hearing last month:
• $50,000 in life insurance proceeds from a policy on Lynda’s life, to be split between Cruz and his younger brother, Zachary;
• $12,309 in a joint checking account naming Nikolas and Lynda Cruz that is now down to $353 according to his attorneys;
• 24 shares of Microsoft stock now worth about $2,200;
• a $5,000 engagement ring left by his mother;
• furniture and a grand piano, and;
• a 2015 KIA automobile.
His attorneys also mentioned they discovered a $3,333.33 deposit on Sept. 27, 2017, from Metropolitan Annuities into the Wells Fargo checking account. A monthly annuity payment of that amount would total $40,000 a year, so attorneys want to know the terms of the annuities and whether Nikolas Cruz is entitled to the payments.
His attorneys told Scherer she should consider the seriousness of the offenses he faces and costs of defending against those charges.
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill said Cruz wants any money he ever gets to be donated to a fund that would benefit the Stoneman Douglas High victims and their families to promote "healing" in the community.
"Mr. Cruz does not want those funds," McNeill said.
Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, 17 counts of attempted murder and the state announced its intentions to seek the death penalty.
He has also been notified, as of March 14 hearing, that three lawsuits are set to be filed against him.