FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Prosecutors are pushing back against an effort by the Broward County Public Defender's Office to drop Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz as a client because he may be entitled to a significant inheritance.
In court filing last week, the State Attorney's Office said a change in representation could substantially delay the trial, which is set for early next year.
Cruz, who is charged with 17 counts of murder, confessed to last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but he pleaded not guilty after prosecutors declined to rule out the death penalty.
The Public Defender's Office requested that it be removed from the case last week after its attorneys discovered Cruz could receive half of a roughly $800,000 payout from his late mother's life insurance policy. They argued that Cruz would no longer be indigent once he received the inheritance.
However, prosecutors said the cost of the complex case would far exceed any windfall Cruz could obtain. Furthermore, prosecutor have cast doubt on whether Cruz will actually receive the money because the estate of Lynda Cruz is the subject multiple civil lawsuits. Those lawsuits have been brought by the estates of some of the victims of school shooting.
Prosecutors also cited a newly passed ballot measure that amended the Florida state constitution.
The amendment, known as Marsy's Law, gives crime victims more rights and information about criminal proceedings. The law requires that victims of crime have the right to proceedings "free from unreasonable delay." The State Attorney's Office argued in the filing that changing Cruz legal council would constitute an unnecessary delay.
"The varying statutory indigency status of Nikolas Cruz, which has been continuously known to the Office of the Public Defender, does not, and cannot, usurp the constitutional rights of victims in this case," prosecutors wrote.
Several parents of the victims of the Parkland school shooting have criticized the move by the Public Defender's Office, saying attorneys there have known about Cruz's potential inheritance for months.