Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer entered a not guilty plea on behalf of accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday, as his defense team maintained an offer to adopt a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence. Photo via Broward County Sheriff/UPI | License Photo
March 14 (UPI) -- A judge entered a not guilty plea for accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz as he was formally arraigned Wednesday.
Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer entered the plea on Cruz's behalf after his lawyers indicated he would stand mute, declining to plead either innocent or guilty on the 34-count indictment related to the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of of first-degree premeditated murder and 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder in the deaths of the 17 students and faculty members who were killed in the shooting.
Scherer's decision to enter a not guilty plea allows the case to proceed with Cruz's presumption of innocence, even though he has not formally denied carrying out the shooting.
Broward County prosecutors said they will seek a death sentence against Cruz for the shooting, while defense attorney Howard Finkelstein has offered to have Cruz serve a sentence of life in exchange for guilty plea.
If Cruz is convicted, a jury would need to recommend death unanimously for the judge to order an execution.
Defense attorney Melisa McNeill reiterated Wednesday the legal team won't offer opposition if prosecutors agree to a sentence of life in prison.
"At any time Mr. Cruz is willing to enter a plea of guilty in exchange for a waiver of the death sentence," McNeill said.
Scherer also ordered Cruz to fill out an updated application to determine whether he is financially indigent in response to a motion filed by one of the victims seeking to disqualify the State Attorney's Office from prosecuting and the Public Defender's Office from representing Cruz.
Financial records show Cruz is due to receive $25,000 from a life insurance policy belonging to his late mother, and had more than $12,000 in a bank account as well as access to 24 shares of Microsoft stock purchased in 2008.
If the clerk's office determines Cruz is not indigent, he may be required to hire a private lawyer.