The attorneys for the 19-year-old man who confessed to shooting and killing 17 people at a Florida high school in February told a judge Wednesday their client wants any potential inheritance from his late mother’s estate to go to the families of the people he killed, or a charity of the families’ choice.
Nikolas Cruz and his attorneys appeared in a Florida courtroom Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether he qualifies to be represented by a public defender, or if he has enough assets to pay for his own legal defense.
Cruz’s mother, Lynda, died in November from complications of the flu. He is a beneficiary of her life insurance policy and could receive up to $25,000.
Meanwhile, Nikolas Cruz reportedly told a family he was living with prior to February’s shooting that he would inherit an $800,000 trust fund, most of which he would receive when he turned 22.
According to the Miami Herald, the trust fund money is from a settlement reached in the death of Cruz’s father, Richard, who died in 2004 from heart failure. The following year, the father’s estate was valued at more than $1 million, according to probate records.
Lynda Cruz filed a malpractice suit against a doctor and a clinic in relation to the treatment the father received before his death. A settlement in the suit was reached in 2008. Nikolas Cruz and his brother, Zachary, received the entire $175,000 settlement, which was to be kept in an annuity until they were adults.
Even if he can claim those funds, however, Nikolas Cruz’s lawyers say he wants the money to be donated.
“He does not want those funds, whatever money that he is entitled to,” lawyer Melissa McNeill told a judge. “He would like that money donated to an organization that the victims’ family believes would be able to facilitate healing in our community or an opportunity to educate our community about the issues that have ripened over the last four or five months.”
But there’s more money potentially available to Cruz. His mother received a payment of more than $3,000 from an annuity in September. Defense lawyers are trying to determine if additional payments are going to be generated by that annuity, and if their client can claim any of it.
Howard Finkelstein, a member of the defense team, said if deposits from that annuity were to be made to their client’s account on a monthly basis, he stands to gain as much as $800,000 during his expected lifetime.
“It is my understanding there has been a delay in the administration of the (mother’s) estate that it is ongoing,” McNeill said. “(Our client) is, in fact, potentially a beneficiary of those funds. However, there have been multiple claims already filed against the estate … and there are multiple lawsuits that have been filed against (our client).”
As for his other available assets, Nikolas Cruz has bank account with a balance of $353, a Microsoft stock certificate worth $2,227, and a commissary account at the Broward County Jail with a little more than $650 in it.
His attorneys claim that’s not nearly enough to cover his pending legal bills. If he’s denied access to a public defender, the attorneys believe Cruz would end up declaring financial indigency within weeks or months, and taxpayers would end up footing the bill for his defense anyway.
“The costs on this case are going to be astronomical,” said assistant public defender Diane Cuddihy.
Cruz has offered to plead guilty to all 17 killings in exchange for being spared the death penalty. Prosecutors have said they are not willing to accept that plea.
The legal costs for defending someone sentenced to death row will be significant, his lawyers argue.
The judge will rule on whether the alleged shooter must pay for his own attorneys or be allowed to use public defenders before the end of the month.
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