Judge enters not guilty plea for Nikolas Cruz during arraignment hearing

Judge asks that Cruz file updated financial form listing assets

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Nikolas Cruz appeared in court Wednesday, where he was formally arraigned on first-degree murder and attempted murder charges.

Cruz, 19, kept his head bowed as he was escorted into the courtroom by a group of Broward Sheriff's Office deputies. 

As expected, Cruz entered a "stands mute" plea. Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer then entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Relatives of some of the victims killed and injured in the mass shooting attended the hearing, including the families of Jamie Guttenberg and Nick Dworet, who were killed and the families of Maddy Wilford and Anthony Borges who were injured in the shooting.

Some of the families held hands during the hearing and wore bracelets that read "MSD Strong." Wilford's father never stopped staring at Cruz during the hearing.  

Cruz's younger brother, Zachary, also attended the hearing with his caregiver and cried after his brother was brought in.

Zachary Cruz cried when his brother appeared in court.

During the hearing, Cruz's defense attorney told the judge that her client had a bank account with $12,000 in it and a $25,000 life insurance check coming from his late mother's estate. She said Cruz did not have access to any money at this time.

Scherer then asked that Cruz file an updated financial form listing assets. She agreed to a 30-day reset and said she was inclined to discharge the public defender, but had no issue allowing the Public Defender's Office to stay on the case until it was determined whether Cruz could hire a private attorney. 

The Broward County State Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that it would seek the death penalty for the 19-year-old man who fatally shot 14 students and three staff members Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

According to the notice of intent to seek death filing, the state is seeking the death penalty because it believes it "can prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Nikolas Cruz, 19, was previously convicted of a capital felony, he knowingly created great risk of death to many persons, capital felony was committed during a burglary, capital felony was especially heinous or cruel and the capital felony was a homicide "committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification."

After the hearing, Borges' father described his determination to see Cruz in court as his son recovers in the hospital. 

"The emotions of today are important because the community needs to know that the system failed these kids," he told Local 10 News in Spanish. 

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with the mass shooting.

"Death by injection would be too easy in my eyes," Andrew Pollack told Local 10 News a day before the hearing. "I'd rather him rot in prison the rest of his life."

Pollack is the father of Meadow Pollack, who was among the 14 students killed in the school massacre.

"If I was able to dictate the method of death, then I would be for the death penalty," Andrew Pollack said.

Cruz's defense attorneys reiterated Wednesday said their client would plead guilty if prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. The action by prosecutors Tuesday does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached.

The only other penalty option for Cruz is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the Digital Executive Producer for Local10.com.