Florida high school shooter Nikolas Cruz would be willing to plead guilty in the massacre which left 17 people dead if the death penalty is not considered as an option, his lawyer said on Friday, Feb. 16.
Cruz, 19, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder over the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, Feb. 14.
His lawyers at the public defender’s office said guilt was not an issue in the case but rather what punishment would be appropriate.
“I am overwhelmingly saddened that every system failed. The school system, the mental health system, DCF, law enforcement and the FBI,” said Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who is representing Cruz, reported USAToday.
“Because we failed to stop it, and we could have, we should not kill the person who behaved as we feared but ignored,” he added.
For the death penalty to be imposed, the jury will need to unanimously recommend the punishment after listening to arguments presented by the prosecution and the defense, reported Sun Sentinel, citing Florida state law.
Finkelstein said the 19-year-old was deeply troubled and suffered from a lot of emotional trauma.
According to Cruz’s family, the death of his adopted mother may have contributed to his erratic behavior.
Lynda Cruz passed away just over three months ago on Nov. 1 last year from pneumonia. She had been looking after the 19-year-old and his younger brother Zachary since she adopted the two as infants with her husband. But her husband, Roger, had died many years earlier from a heart attack, leaving Lynda to continue raising the two boys on her own.
An unnamed relative told the newspaper that Nikolas had been diagnosed with autism and that Lynda had sought counseling for Nikolas at a young age, “She did her best getting him any help he needed,” reported the Sun Sentinel.
Christine Roxburgh, a neighbor to the Cruz family for many years, told the newspaper that after Roger’s death, Lynda has asked her daughter to take the boys, but Roxburgh refused.
Another neighbor to the Cruz’s said the boys “were very much on their own. The kids seem to roam around and come and go as they pleased,” reported the paper.
An attorney for the family said that Cruz had become even more “depressed” following his mother’s death, although he had been going to therapy sessions to try to deal with the grief.
The public defender said that the other aspects of Cruz’s life could be brought up to persuade the jury to give him a life sentence, such as the autism diagnosis which has not been officially confirmed, reported Sun Sentinel.
“This kid didn’t have to fall through the cracks. He screamed for help, and we failed him,” Finkelstein said during the court appearance, reported the newspaper.
“He should never go free. Let him plead guilty and send him to prison for life,” he added.
Broward State Attorney’s Office’s Prosecutor Shari Tate told the Sun Sentinel that it was too soon to discuss the type of appropriate penalty in the case.
Finkelstein added the one thing that is clear from the case is the irreparable damage the tragedy has caused.
“In the 40 years I have been in this courthouse, I have seen a lot of murder and mayhem but nothing is even in the same universe as this,” he said, reported USAToday.
“This devastation has caused a permanent wound in the victims’ families and the community. All of us will be forever changed.”
NTD Reporter Zack Stieber contributed to this report.