Public defender wants to drop Florida massacre suspect

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By TERRY SPENCER, 25 April 2019

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The public defenders representing the suspect in the Parkland school massacre asked to withdraw from the case Wednesday, saying the defendant will soon receive nearly a half-million dollars in life insurance money 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 policy. Under state law, the public defender can only represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys.

Cruz, 20, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 14, 2017, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 17 counts of attempted murder. He faces a possible death sentence.

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Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and his chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, said their office learned about the insurance policy this week. At a court hearing last year, their office had said the amount was likely to be about $30,000, too little to hire a private attorney.

"By statute, we can only represent the poor and indigent," Weekes told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday. "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 gets it. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the criminal case, has not set a hearing on the public defenders' withdrawal motion.

Prosecutors declined comment.

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This story has been corrected to show the suspect's first name is spelled Nikolas.

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By TERRY SPENCER, 25 April 2019

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