A grand jury in Broward County, Fla., on Wednesday indicted Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged in a high school massacre last month, on 34 counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder.
The charges came three weeks after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 14 students and three faculty members dead, and the indictment pushes forward a case that is one of the state’s highest-profile prosecutions in recent memory. Cruz, whose attorneys have admitted his guilt, could face the death penalty.
The grand jury charged Cruz with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree, according to the office of Michael J. Satz, the state attorney for Broward County. Cruz also was charged with 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree, with these counts listing people who were wounded at Stoneman Douglas.
Police said Cruz confessed to the killings after he was arrested, and the 19-year-old has been seen publicly only once since the shooting, appearing briefly in court days later.
Jail records released Wednesday shed light on his behavior since he was arrested not long after leaving Stoneman Douglas alongside fleeing students. The records show that he has been largely isolated and, at one point less than a week after the shooting, was seen laughing, according to logs and other reports the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released Wednesday. The reports stated that Cruz is “not allowed to interact with other inmates for his safety,” and they show that most of his interactions take place with his attorneys or the jail staff members monitoring him.
Visitor logs covering his incarceration from the day of the massacre through Monday show visits from attorneys, people with the public defender’s office and some who appear to be psychiatrists. His brother, Zachary, is described as visiting twice, as is a woman with whom the brothers stayed in November after their mother died. On Feb. 20, six days after the massacre, a deputy sheriff wrote that Cruz “appeared to break out in laughter,” although what prompted that is unclear.
The jail records show that Cruz’s responsiveness varied depending on the day and the situation. He was “very engaged … talkative, aware” during an interview with his attorney and a doctor, according to one report filed four days after the shooting. The following day, he did not respond when a deputy sheriff asked how he was. Later in the week, Cruz refused to leave his cell during recreation time.
Multiple reports say he appeared to be deep in thought, while others described him as blankly staring ahead and said his “speech is slow & sometimes slurred.” He spoke to officers more than once, but those comments are redacted from the records, which were first reported by WPTV, a local news station in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing Cruz, said his office did not know much about the reports other than what they read in the media. He also said they did not want to add to the pain felt by victims’ families and the community by commenting on every update in the case.
Finkelstein said Wednesday he had no comment on the indictment other than that his office is ready to plead guilty “immediately” in exchange for life sentences without parole, repeating an offer he made in interviews with The Washington Post and other media outlets not long after the shooting. Finkelstein told The Post two days after the massacre that the only uncertainty in the case has been what punishment Cruz will face.
“Did he do it or not?” Finkelstein said. “He did it. It’s one of the most horrific crimes in the history of America. There’s only one question: Does he live or does he die?”
Finkelstein argued that because of all the missed warning signs littering Cruz’s life — including repeated warnings to the FBI and local police that he could be capable of violence at a school — it would not be right for him to be executed.
Satz, who will prosecute the case against Cruz, has said he will not announce until later in the process whether his office will seek a death sentence, though he released a statement calling the rampage “the type of case the death penalty was designed for.” Satz has not made a decision about the death penalty as of Wednesday, and his office has several weeks before it has to announce whether they will seek that punishment, a spokeswoman said.
Satz’s office has otherwise remained silent about Finkelstein’s offer and the case, which was the subject of testimony this week before the Broward County grand jury. A spokeswoman for Satz’s office declined to comment on the testimony earlier Wednesday, noting that any proceedings involving grand juries “are secret and confidential,” but an attorney for some witnesses confirmed that they testified Wednesday morning.
In the modern era of shooting rampages, it is rare for attackers to be taken into custody, leaving Satz and his office with an unusual decision to make. Perhaps the closest parallel existed after the 2012 massacre inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., which left 12 dead and dozens more wounded. In that case, the gunman’s attorneys also offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
George Brauchler, the district attorney who led the Aurora prosecution, described it as a difficult choice. Brauchler said he heard impassioned arguments from relatives of Aurora victims who favored seeking death as well as those who simply wanted to move on. Ultimately, Brauchler opted to seek a death sentence, and after an emotional trial, the jury convicted gunman James Holmes before opting to sentence him to life in prison.
Brauchler, who can still vividly recount painful testimony from the trial, said he stands by the decision and believes such trials can help the public find closure. He also said victims’ relatives came up to him afterward and thanked him, saying they appreciated the trial for laying bare so much information about the shooter.
“That is what the trial provided them: the chance to understand this on a detailed, specific level,” Brauchler said in an interview. “You get to hear all the facts. … The public gets to know everything about this guy that we’ve invested this time and these resources in. I can’t imagine even in the rearview mirror making a different decision.”
This article, first published at 2:01 p.m., has been updated.