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Public Defender Asks to Drop School Shooting Suspect

Nikolas Cruz is set to inherit $432K
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 25, 2019 2:38 AM CDT
Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz enters the courtroom for a hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Friday, April 5, 2019.   (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
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(Newser) – The public defenders for the Parkland school massacre suspect unexpectedly asked to withdraw from the case Wednesday, saying the 20-year-old man will soon inherit nearly a half-million dollars and no longer qualify for free legal representation. The Broward County Public Defender's Office filed the unexpected notice late Wednesday, saying Nikolas Cruz is set to receive more than $432,000 shortly from his late mother's life insurance policy. Under state law, the public defender can only represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys. Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder arising from the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The former Stoneman Douglas student faces a possible death sentence.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and his chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, say their office learned about the insurance policy this week. "By statute, we can only represent the poor and indigent," Weekes tells the AP. "We are asking to withdraw from the case because the defendant is no longer poor." But Cruz may not get the money. It is likely that the victims' families who are suing Cruz will claim the money should go to them and judges will have to determine who ultimately receives it. Cruz has said that he would prefer any money he received from his mother's estate or insurance go to the victims and their families. Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia in November 2017, three months before the shooting. Cruz's trial is scheduled to begin early next year.

(Read more Nikolas Cruz stories.)

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