Shackled and wearing a red jump suit, school shooter Nikolas Cruz made his first live appearance in a Broward County circuit court five days after he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and fatally shot 17 people in the worst school shooting in Florida history.
Cruz, a slightly built teen, did not say anything and never looked up at the crowd or the judge from his seat at the defense table. He kept his head and eyes downcast, even as his defense attorney whispered to him. It was a tense atmosphere — Cruz was surrounded by Broward Sheriff’s deputies as news media members and lawyers watched from the gallery.
He is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder and could face the death penalty. The Broward County Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Cruz, has already said he will admit guilt if prosecutors will waive execution as punishment.
After his arrest last week, Cruz made a first court appearance via closed-circuit television from a detention facility. He was held with no bond.
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Cruz appeared in court shortly before another hearing in which a judge ordered the release of 22 pages of documents relating to a state family welfare investigation into the teen’s mental health woes. The Florida Department of Children & Families had petitioned for the release of the documents, which have already been reported on by the Miami Herald and other media outlets.
The DCF case, opened on Sept. 28, 2016, classified Cruz as a “vulnerable adult” victim with multiple mental health concerns, including severe depression, ADHD and autism — he was reported to be cutting himself and wanting to buy a gun after a breakup with a girlfriend. The case was closed when investigators determined Cruz was getting proper mental-health treatment.
“There were multiple red flags that were missed,” said Broward Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weeks, whose office is representing Cruz. He said he hoped the documents would continue to demonstrate “that there was a systematic break” and that numerous agencies failed Cruz by ignoring “the many cries for help from this child.”
As for Cruz’s hearing before a criminal court judge, the hearing revolved around a court document Cruz’s attorneys filed under seal late Friday before another judge. The Broward County Public Defender’s Office on Monday morning asked that the motion filed with the court be “stricken” from the record because what the office was seeking “was moot.”
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, at an afternoon hearing, ruled that the motion dealt with a “limited” issue involving the defense team’s “access” to their client. A lawyer representing the Herald and other news media tried to participate in the hearing but Broward deputies refused to allow her to approach the court or speak.
Weekes, Broward’s chief assistant public defender, refused to speak about the defense’s court filings or his client. He said Monday’s court hearing was not originally supposed to take place.
“Our goal is to give the community an opportunity to grieve,” Weekes said.