The man accused of killing 17 people when he opened fire inside a Florida high school has withdrawn his not guilty plea.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was formally indicted by a Florida grand jury on Wednesday. He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree.
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"A written pleas of not guilty was filed in this cause prematurely before formal charges were filed. Having now been indicted by the Grand Jury, the Defendant Nikolas Cruz withdraws that filing and Stands Mute to the Changes pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.170 (c) (2018)," the withdrawal statement reads.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, explained the plea change this way:
“We are not saying he is ‘not guilty,’ but we can’t plead ‘guilty’ while death is still on the table. Pleading ‘not guilty,’ even though it is form and process kicking off the legal process, just seemed wrong in this case, a legal fiction that could bring unnecessary pain to the victims’ families. Standing mute maintains our only position: he (Cruz) did it and he will plead guilty immediately to 34 consecutive life sentences without parole.”
According to Florida procedures, Finkelstein said he expects the judge to enter an automatic “not guilty” plea so that the criminal court process can begin.
Through withdrawing the guilty plea, the defense hopes that the death penalty will be taken off the table.