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Nikolas Cruz could get hefty inheritance, may not need court-appointed lawyer

Former caretaker claims she has 50-percent interest in estate

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz may be entitled to a hefty inheritance, which could mean he's no longer eligible for a court-appointed lawyer.

Broward County's public defender filed a motion Tuesday asking Judge Elizabeth Scherer to determine whether Cruz, 19, is indigent.

According to the motion, Cruz was determined indigent by the clerk of court, but defense attorneys have since learned that Cruz "may be a beneficiary in probate matters."

Cruz's father died in 2004 and his mother died in November.

If Cruz stands to receive money from the estates of his late parents, Scherer would most likely require that he hire a private attorney instead of being represented by the taxpayer-funded public defender's office.

Cruz had been living with the Snead family for several months before the shooting and they said they had no clue the teen was capable of such an attack.

But before the Sneads, a woman, identified as Rocxanne Deschamps, was taking care of Cruz and his younger brother.

Deschamps apparently kicked Cruz out of her house over his obsession with guns.

In a petition filed the day after the shooting, she claims she has a 50-percent interest in the estate.

The move would essentially give her control of the inheritance.

The State Attorney's Office is now reviewing whether Cruz is really indigent and can afford his own paid lawyer.

Meanwhile, a log of more than 30 calls phoned in over the past few years at homes Cruz lived in continue to be investigated.

No report was taken on most of those service calls, which were logged as domestic disturbances and involving a mentally ill person, among other things.

Broward Sheriff's Office officials said the agency is halfway through its probe to see if blatant warning signs were missed and will hold any deputy accountable who fell short of proper protocol.

Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 that he legally purchased to kill 17 people and wound more than a dozen others on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz was a former student at the Parkland school.

Defense attorney Melisa McNeil told reporters after Cruz's bond court hearing that he's "a broken human being."

Cruz is being held without bond on 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Public defender Howard Finkelstein said Cruz would plead guilty immediately if the state would waive the death penalty. However, Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz issued a statement saying that the crime "is the type of case the death penalty was designed for."

"This was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school," Staz said. "Our office will announce our formal position at the appropriate time."

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.