Nikolas Cruz could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, his public defender said Wednesday, hours before the Florida school shooter was slated to appear at a hearing to determine if taxpayers will fund his defense.
Attorney Howard Finkelstein said the probate case involving his late mother’s estate has moved slowly, so Cruz’s exact net worth cannot be determined, but Cruz has one or two annuities.
A statement shows one annuity included a deposit of more than $3,000 into Cruz’s account. If that’s an annual deposit, it won’t mean much, but if it’s a monthly payout, Nikolas Cruz and his brother, Zachary, could have as much as $1 million in the bank, Finkelstein said.
The probate court will decide how that money is split among the brothers, he said.
Nikolas Cruz also has a life insurance check for $25,000 and a bank account with a few hundred dollars, the lawyer said. The bank account previously had $12,000, but he isn’t sure where the remaining money went, he said.
A Wednesday afternoon hearing will determine whether Cruz can afford to hire his own attorneys to defend him.
Attorney: Pay the families
Police arrested him shortly after the shooting, and Cruz has confessed to being the gunman, court documents show.
Before the massacre, Cruz, 19, told a family he was living with that he was set to inherit $800,000 from his deceased parents, most of which would come when he turned 22, the Sun Sentinel reported in February.
Even if he gets access to the money a couple of years from now, the Broward County public defender’s office, which is representing him, could still get reimbursed.
Under Florida law, a public defender can charge a client even after the case is over, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott Silverman told The Miami Herald.
“The public is still protected if he comes into money at some later time. The public defenders would be reimbursed the cost of its services,” said Silverman, a retired judge who is not involved in the case.
Victims’ attorneys are also hoping to go after any assets available to him.
Finkelstein told CNN he has no issue with Cruz’s money, if it exists, going to the victims’ families.
“It’s best that they receive it rather than an attorney,” he said.
Prosecutors to seek death penalty
Last month, a grand jury indicted Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree.
He’s being held without bail in a Broward County jail.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty. They listed several factors, including that Cruz knowingly created a risk of death for many people and the shooting was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
Cruz’s defense team has said there is no question he did it, and he’s willing to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty.
For the sake of the families involved, Finkelstein said, he would prefer his client take a plea and serve 34 consecutive life sentences — one for each of the counts on which he’s been indicted.
“I really believe in my soul that the best thing for the families of the victims is to lock him up and throw (away) the key,” Finkelstein told CNN. “If we go to trial, the victims’ families will be connected to the person that destroyed their life. It will be arduous. It will be long. We will put the victims’ families through another hell.”
Last month, his defense attorney told a judge that the teen was standing mute to the charges — meaning he was declining to enter a plea. The judge entered a plea of not guilty on Cruz’s behalf.