Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was formally charged Wednesday with 17 counts of first-degree murder, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted.
The indictment returned by a grand jury in Fort Lauderdale also charges the 19-year-old with 17 counts of attempted murder for the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in which 17 people died and more than a dozen others were wounded.
Cruz’s public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table, which would mean a life prison sentence. The Broward County state attorney has not announced a decision on the death penalty.
James and Kimberly Snead, the couple who gave Cruz a home after his mother died late last year, testified before the grand jury Wednesday. Both James Snead and the couple’s attorney, Jim Lewis, wore silver “17” pins to honor the victims of the shooting.
The couple is “trying to do the right thing” and is mourning along with the rest of the Parkland community, Lewis said.
“We’ll let justice take its course at this point,” Lewis said. “They still don’t know what happened, why this happened. They don’t have any answers. They feel very badly for everybody.”
Cruz told investigators he took an AR-15 rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day and started shooting into classrooms.
Jail records released by the Broward Sheriff’s Office show Cruz was being held in solitary confinement. Officers described Cruz as being cooperative but avoiding eye contact.
The report said Cruz “often sits with a blank stare,” appeared to laugh and exhibited “awkward” behavior during and after a visit with an attorney and had one “family visit.” Officers said Cruz also requested a Bible to read in his single-person cell in the infirmary.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, the Florida House was expected to vote on gun legislation stemming from the school shooting.
The legislation would put some restrictions on rifle sales, provide new mental health programs for schools and improve communication between school districts, law enforcement and state agencies. Democrats’ efforts failed Tuesday to strip the bill of language that would create a program to arm some teachers and school employees who complete law enforcement training.
Two parents who lost children in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings told reporters that all the families of Parkland victims want the legislation to succeed.
Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow, and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.
School Shooting Suspect Indicted on 17 Counts of Murder