Prosecutors to seek death penalty for Florida high school shooter

By Katherine Lam

Published March 13, 2018

Prosecutors on Tuesday filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in a Florida school shooting on Valentine’s Day.

Cruz is scheduled for a formal arraignment Wednesday on a 34-count indictment. Cruz, who walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 and opened fire, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Cruz’s attorney previously said the 19-year-old would plead guilty if prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty. Tuesday’s notice of intent does not necessarily mean a plea deal will not be reached.

The only other penalty option for Cruz is life in prison with no possibility of parole.

NIKOLAS CRUZ'S MOM, TORMENTED BY HIS BEHAVIOR, WEIGHED SIGNING OVER PARENTAL RIGHTS: FAMILY SOURCE

Details about Cruz’s background has emerged in the weeks after the deadly shooting, including his history of violent behavior in school. Jail records released by Broward Sheriff’s Office detailed the 19-year-old’s behavior in the first few days behind bars. He was observed “lying on his back staring at the ceiling” and avoiding eye contact. Cruz appeared “restless” and in “deep thought” other times.

This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz.  Authorities say Cruz, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday,  Feb. 14, 2018, killing more than a dozen people and injuring several.  (Broward County Jail via AP)

Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He is being held without bail. (Broward County Sheriff's Office)

At one point, Cruz appeared to “break out in laughter both during and immediately following his professional visit” with his attorney. He also requested a Bible on Feb. 24, 10 days after the massacre.

A family source also detailed to Fox News Cruz’s past behavioral problems. His adoptive mother, who died in November 2017 from pneumonia, endured years of torment because of her children’s outbursts. In one instance, Cruz hit his mother with a vacuum hose when she confiscated his Xbox, according to the family source. He reportedly punched his mother in the jaw when she refused to stop at a store Cruz wanted.

NIKOLAS CRUZ INDICTED, JAIL RECORDS REVEAL ODD BEHAVIOR IN DAYS AFTER FLORIDA MASSACRE

Cruz struggled at school, too. The school therapist and psychiatrist at Cross Creek, a school in Pompano Beach that specializes in students with behavioral and emotional disorders, wrote in a letter before summer 2014 that they were concerned about Cruz's “aggressive and destructive” behavior at home.

“At home, he continues to be aggressive and destructive with minimal provocation,” the letter stated, according to files obtained by the Miami Herald. “For instance, he destroyed his television after losing a video game that he was playing. Nikolas has a hatchet that he uses to chop up a dead tree in his backyard. Mom has not been able to locate that hatchet as of lately.”

Cruz was eventually able to transition out of the school after showing “tremendous progress” with his behavior. The began attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School full-time in January 2016 until he transferred out in February 2017. 

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, previously said there were a slew of warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent, and that the death penalty might be going too far.

"Because that's what this case is about. Not, did he do it? Not, should he go free? Should he live or should he die," Finkelstein told The Associated Press last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam

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