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Parkland shooter came into an $865K insurance policy. Now his public defenders are dropping him

Listen to the conversation between Nikolas Cruz and his brother in police interrogation room

Zachary Cruz talks to his brother, Nikolas, hours after Nikolas killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018. Prosecutors released video of the police interrogation Wednesday.
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Zachary Cruz talks to his brother, Nikolas, hours after Nikolas killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018. Prosecutors released video of the police interrogation Wednesday.

Nikolas Cruz, the teen who confessed to carrying out one of the worst school shootings in the nation’s history, is about to become very wealthy.

Cruz and his half-brother, Zachary Cruz, will share the proceeds of an $864,929 MetLife life insurance policy, his lawyers wrote in a court pleading Wednesday.

Because the Broward Public Defender’s Office, which had represented Cruz since the massacre on Valentine’s Day in 2018, can represent only impoverished defendants, the office has asked Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to remove its lawyers from the case, records show.

“The defendant and ... counsel were previously unaware of this entitlement,” Cruz’s attorneys wrote in their pleading. “The Law Office of the Public Defender is statutorily prohibited from representing a non-indigent client.”

Cruz was easily the public defender’s most controversial and notorious client, and he likely would have consumed the office in his defense for years to come. He confessed to the rampage only hours after he was caught near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. He had amassed a well-documented history of violent and pugnacious acts. He failed to express any real remorse for the killings.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein had offered to allow Cruz to plead guilty to the killings in exchange for an agreement from prosecutors to forgo the death penalty. Broward State Attorney Michael Satz rejected the offer, saying Cruz was the poster child for capital punishment — a monster come to life.

The 20-year-old Cruz has been indicted on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. A Broward judge is eyeing a 2020 trial date. A not-guilty plea was entered on Cruz’s behalf.

School Shooting Florida
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz talks with defense attorney Diane Cuddihy during a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Cruz, 20, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Amy Beth Bennett AP

The boys’ adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died in November 2017. It was not immediately clear if she was the source of the insurance windfall. A probate case over her estate remains open.

Their birth mother had struggled with addiction and committed violent crimes, something Cruz’s public defenders were considering using as part of his defense. She was once arrested buying crack cocaine while pregnant with Cruz.

The Parkland massacre supercharged movements to increase gun regulations and improve school safety. It also led to the ouster of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the law enforcement agency’s delayed and chaotic response to the shooting.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s coverage of the tragedy garnered the media company a Pulitzer Prize last week, an award in the prestigious Public Service category that recognized its exposure of failures by the Broward school system, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and social service agencies leading up to the shootings.

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Carol Marbin Miller is the Herald’s senior investigative reporter. Carol grew up in North Miami Beach, and holds degrees from Florida State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has written about children, elders and people with disabilities for more than 20 years.


Nicholas Nehamas is an investigative reporter at the Miami Herald, where he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that broke the Panama Papers. He attended Columbia Journalism School and joined the Herald in 2014.


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