Parkland Shooter, Nikolas Cruz, Could Lose Public Defender If He Inherits Money From His Mother’s Estate

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who shot and killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, could possibly be the recipient of a windfall from his late mother’s estate. Lynda Cruz died on November 1, 2017, leaving behind an Allstate Life Insurance policy of $25,000 which Cruz could receive. Along with those funds, Lynda Cruz had an annuity, but the full amount remains unclear. Melissa McNeill, who is Nikolas Cruz’s attorney, said the court is aware of $3,333 that was deposited into Lynda Cruz’s account just before she died. If that is a monthly annuity payment, Cruz could stand to inherit close to $800,000 which would be shared with his younger brother, Zachary.

Cruz attended a hearing to determine if he is indigent and therefore eligible to be represented by a public defender. If he is in line to collect a large sum of money, that would give him the financial means to afford a private attorney, although, according to McNeill, several claims have already been filed against Lynda Cruz’s estate and multiple lawsuits have been filed against Cruz himself. At present, Cruz only has a Wells Fargo bank account with a $353 balance, a Microsoft stock certificate valued at $2,227, and a commissary account at the Broward County Jail with a little more than $650 in it. His lack of means enabled him to be represented by the public defender’s office, but the judge’s decision in regard to the inheritance could change that.

Judge at Cruz's hearing
Judge Scherer presides over Nikolas Cruz’s hearing

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told Judge Elizabeth Scherer at the hearing in Ft. Lauderdale that whatever money Cruz does collect would not be enough for him to hire private counsel, and he made it clear that removing the public defender’s office from representing Cruz would cause multiple problems for the court system.

“I think it’s very important that you also consider that if you remove our office at this moment right now, in the highest profile case in America, the defendant is going to be left without a lawyer. From that will flow a myriad of legal problems, some for the defendant, some for the state, some for the court and some for the appellate courts.”

McNeill shored up Finkelstein’s argument by saying Cruz did not want the money, and that he wanted it donated to “an organization that the victims[‘] families believe would be able to facilitate the healing in our community.” Finkelstein then added that if Cruz didn’t want the funds, they should be donated to the victims and those who’d been hurt.

At the same hearing, Finkelstein reiterated that his client was prepared to plead guilty in exchange for consecutive life sentences to avoid the death penalty, but prosecutors objected. Judge Scherer dismissed the conversation, saying “okay, that’s not what we’re here for.” Judge Scherer will make a decision on Cruz’s status by April 27.