Parkland shooter to get hefty inheritance; public defender withdraws from case

The Broward Public Defender’s Office has asked to withdraw from confessed Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz’s death penalty case, court records show.

The teen is entitled to half of a nearly $865,000 life insurance policy as of April 23, the court filing shows.

Gordon Weekes, assistant public defender, said: “We have to withdraw.”

This development will throw the criminal case off track. The judge had hoped to begin trial in January.

Some say the amount is nowhere near enough to cover the costs for a new death-penalty qualified defense attorney. Others say Cruz will never see the money because victims’ families who have sued him in civil court have already won default judgments against him.

“My blood is boiling,” Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed, posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “This will only cause more delay. I am furiously mad right now.”

“The defendant and undersigned counsel were previously unaware of this entitlement,” the public defender’s motion, filed Wednesday in Broward Circuit Court, said. “The Law Office of the Public Defender is statutorily prohibited from representing a non-indigent defendant.”

Simply put, the public defender’s office handles clients who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers and taxpayers foot the bill.

Because there were 34 victims — 17 dead and 17 wounded — it makes the case very unusual and complex.

It is possible that a private lawyer would take on the case, which would create delays, Cruz quickly would run out of money and taxpayers would end up paying for his defense anyway.

Veteran Broward County defense attorneys say $400,000 would not go very far in a death penalty case.

“That money goes pretty fast,” lawyer David Bogenschutz said.

The judge likely could warn the new lawyer that they would not be allowed to withdraw when the money ran out, he said.

Also, the judge has said she wants to move the case expeditiously, so Cruz’s new lawyer would have to “literally close down part of your practice for the next six months to a year to get this case ready, if you can get it ready in a year,” Bogenschutz said

And, he said, a second lawyer would need to join the defense team to argue during the death penalty phase of the trial why the defendant should be spared execution.

Also, numerous expert witnesses would be needed to testify about insanity, psychological impairment and other issues.

“Of that $400,000 you could spend $200,000 on experts easily,” Attorney Hilliard Moldof said.

The new lawyer’s job would be more difficult, Moldof said, because of the stance the public defender’s office took very early on after the massacre — that Cruz would plead guilty if the death penalty were taken off the table.

“I think that was shortsighted for the public defender’s office to concede guilt publicly without some agreement from the state,” he said.

This latest turn of events, Bogenschutz said, could push the State Attorney Office into reconsidering their position on the death penalty. A spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office declined to comment on that possibility.

The death penalty decision likely rests on whether this is the kind of case it was made for, Bogenschutz said. “If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ all the other stuff falls by the wayside.”

“This certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for,” State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement issued just days after the school massacre.

A very young lawyer may take on the case to make a name for him or herself, Moldof said. But most others would find it too consuming and not worth it, requiring years of investigation, preparation and possibly even the hiring of additional lawyers.

It’s unclear when or how Cruz, 20, who is locked up in the Broward Main Jail in downtown Fort Lauderdale, will get the money. The public defender’s office is prohibited from helping him.

But that might not really matter, because attorneys for massacre victims will be filing motions quickly to claim the money.

“We’re going to move to take that money,” said attorney Alex Arreaza, who represents Anthony Borges who was one of the most critically injured survivors. He was shot five times in his lung, abdomen and legs and spent two months in the hospital.

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