School shooting suspect indicted on 17 counts of murder

In this Feb. 19, 2018 file photo, Nikolas Cruz, accused of murdering 17 people in the Florida high school shooting, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz was formally charged Wednesday, March 7, with 17 counts of first-degree murder, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)
In this Feb. 19, 2018 file photo, Nikolas Cruz, accused of murdering 17 people in the Florida high school shooting, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz was formally charged Wednesday, March 7, with 17 counts of first-degree murder, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.  — 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. Prosecutors have 45 days to decide whether they want to seek 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. 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 his former school on Feb. 14 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 avoiding eye contact with deputies but also being cooperative and engaged with his visitors.

The report said Cruz "often sits with a blank stare," asked for a Bible to read and appeared to be "smiling and giggling" during one visit with his attorneys. Investigators and psychiatrists also have visited Cruz in his single-person cell in the jail's infirmary, where officers note his activities every 15 minutes.

His brother visited him twice, along with Rocxanne Deschamps, who took in both teens after their mother died in November. Cruz lived with Deschamps only briefly before moving in with the Sneads.

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Farrington reported from Tallahassee, Florida, and Replogle reported from Parkland, Florida. Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida, and Freida Frisaro, David Fischer and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

 

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