Nikolas Cruz is reportedly withdrawing his not guilty plea and will enter no plea at all on 34 counts of murder-related charges.
In a recent report by the Sun-Sentinel, it has been revealed that Cruz’s legal team filed court documents on Thursday, saying he is opting to “stand mute” when he is formally arraigned on March 14.
According to Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, the 19-year-old gunman “stands mute” before the court, adding that the not guilty plea was entered prematurely before he was indicted on 17 premeditated murder and 17 attempted murder charges.
The move appears to be the first step in a legal strategy that will keep him away from death row even if he is guilty of the charges.
It can be recalled that Cruz’s legal team said that he would plead guilty to the crimes if the death penalty is taken off the table. If the prosecutors grant their request, Cruz might be facing life imprisonment instead.
And while Cruz opted to stand mute, the outlet pointed out that it still has the same immediate effect as a not guilty plea. Apparently, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will most likely enter a not guilty plea on his behalf to keep the process moving.
It was also noted that Cruz’s decision to stand mute will allow his legal team to focus on the penalty phase and concentrate on factors that could potentially persuade a jury that he does not deserve a death sentence.
Some mitigating factors that Cruz’s defense team might present include his personal history and mental state.
Previously, it was revealed that the suspect suffered from depression when his adoptive mother passed away. There were also claims that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, emotional behavioral disability, and autism.
However, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said previously that prosecutors are likely to seek the death penalty against Cruz despite his condition, given that he executed a well thought out plan, the Miami Herald reported.
“Anyone who, in general, is cold, calculated, premeditated, something that is so well thought out, something that is planned, something that is organized in advance, those all weigh very heavily.”
Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, killing 17 people. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder — both in the first-degree.