FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — Public defenders for self-confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz were ordered Wednesday to stay on his case while judge Elizabeth Scherer determines if Cruz remains indigent.
Lawyers for Cruz had asked the Broward judge to be removed them from the case after they recently learned he was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and was entitled to half of the nearly $865,000 death benefit after his mother Lynda’s death.
They said even though he does not want the money, it no longer makes him indigent and taxpayers should not foot the bill to defend him.
Attorneys for Cruz said with the money he could hire a private attorney.
“We had no choice but to bring this to the court’s attention,” said public defender Diane Cudahy. “The court has to make a determination or not, in light of these circumstances, whether Mr. Cruz remains indigent and entitled to the appointment of the public defender.”
Prosecutors oppose such a move, saying any money likely will go through lawsuits to Cruz’s surviving victims and the families of those killed.
Prosecutors say the public defender cannot withdraw simply because the defendant has an entitlement to a benefit and is no longer indigent.
They said there are proper procedures for a withdrawal which must take into consideration assets, liabilities, and probable expenses.
The state’s motion also points out that there are currently five civil cases pending against Cruz where damages are being sought.
The estate of Lynda Cruz is named in four of the lawsuits. There are also three separate claims against her estate, two by families of victims and one by a survivor. They say these should be factored into whether Cruz is no longer indigent.
The State’s Attorney’s Office also points out that after being on the case for a year, the public defenders’ withdrawal would cause an “unnecessary delay.”
They say victims of crimes have the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, “and to a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings.”
Debra Hixon is the wife of murdered Athletic Director Chris Hixon. She pleaded with the judge to keep the public defenders on the case, saying a change would cause a big delay.
“The idea of making us have to go through this any longer than necessary is really unbearable. It’s long enough. To have to start over, I can’t even describe to you how that makes me feel,” she said.
Some have argued that money should go to a fund for the victims of the Stoneman Douglas massacre and their families. Hixon doesn’t want it.
“I don’t want a penny from him. I don’t want crap from him. I just want him to die. I just want him to get the death penalty. If that money should become available, he should put it back in the public defender’s office so taxpayers can have their money back, but I don’t want crap from him,” she said.
Hixon said just going to court and being in the same room with the man who confessed to killing her husband was difficult.
“He’s sitting there and he seems so insignificant, he’s just an insignificant person that completely changed so many people’s lives and the fact that he can sit there and breath and write letters and get letters and exercise, it infuriates me to the extent that I am shaking,” she said.
Cruz is charged with killing 17 and wounding 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
He’s pleaded not guilty but his attorneys said he would plead guilty for a life sentence.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.