Florida massacre defendant's attorneys to remain for now

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A judge ordered the public defenders representing the former student charged with the Florida high school massacre to stay on his case Wednesday while she determines if he remains indigent.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ordered Broward County public defenders to keep representing Nikolas Cruz while she determines if he'll collect $432,000 from his late mother's annuity.

His attorneys argued he is no longer poor enough to be represented by them on charges that he murdered 14 students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, and wounded 17 others.

Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy told Judge Scherer that under state law, her office can only represent those who are too poor to hire private attorneys. She said given that he is entitled to the money, she and her colleagues believe they can no longer represent him. She said that Cruz, 20, has said he wants the money given to the victims' families, but she cited a previous court ruling that said it would "be a fraud on the courts and taxpayers" to allow a defendant to voluntarily transfer money in order to remain indigent.

Prosecutors and victims' families opposed their removal, saying Cruz will lose any money as a result of the civil lawsuits he faces. David Brill, who represents the father of slain victim Meadow Pollack, told Scherer that removing the public defender would unnecessarily delay the start of Cruz's trial, scheduled for early next year. That, he said, would cause additional pain to the victims' families.

"The defendant has admitted to massacring 17 innocent people and injuring 17 more, caused countless others to suffer PTSD and essentially destroyed the peace and tranquility of an entire community," Brill said. "There is something fundamentally wrong to allowing him to use the money for private attorneys this late in the game."

Cruz, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit with his wrists and ankles shackled, dropped his face into his hands and appeared to cry as Debbie Hixon, the widow of athletic director Chris Hixon, begged Scherer not to do anything that would delay the trial.

"To make us wait longer for a judgment, it is just unbearable," Hixon said. "It is long enough."

After the hearing, Hixon told reporters she doesn't understand why it has taken this long to bring Cruz to trial as there is no question of his guilt. She said she doesn't want any of his money.

"I don't want crap from him," she said. "I just want him to get the death penalty."

Cruz pleaded not guilty but his attorneys said he would plead guilty for a life sentence. Prosecutors want the death penalty.

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