Florida shooting suspect qualifies for public defender, judge rules

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 24 (Reuters) - The man charged with killing 17 people at Florida high school qualifies to have a public defender represent him at taxpayer expense, even though he may inherit money from his late mother's estate, a Florida judge ruled on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, has a current net worth of about $28,000 and access to only part of that sum, Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer wrote in a court ruling. As a result, paying for a private lawyer would impose a substantial hardship on the defendant, she said.

The judge said she would reconsider the question of whether Cruz qualified for a public defender should he inherit money from the estate, according to a court filing.

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Florida high school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz
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Florida high school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz
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Nikolas Cruz (C) appears via video monitor with Melisa McNeill (R), his public defender, at a bond court hearing after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Susan Stocker/Pool
Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in Broward County court before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in Broward County court before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in Broward County court before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in Broward County court before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he allegedly killed 17 people, is seen on a closed circuit television screen during a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse on February 15, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Mr. Cruz is possibly facing 17 counts of premeditated murder in the school shooting. (Photo by Susan Stocker - Pool/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Prosecutor Shari Tate (L) attends the hearing for Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he allegedly killed 17 people, during a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse on February 15, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Mr. Cruz is possibly facing 17 counts of premeditated murder in the school shooting. (Photo by Susan Stocker - Pool/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he allegedly killed 17 people, is seen on a closed circuit television screen during a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse on February 15, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Mr. Cruz is possibly facing 17 counts of premeditated murder in the school shooting. (Photo by Susan Stocker - Pool/Getty Images)
Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool
Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool
Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool
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Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on Feb. 14 to kill 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and wound 17 others. Cruz is a former student at the school in Parkland.

At an April 11 hearing on Cruz's finances, Melissa McNeil of the Broward Public Defender's office told the court that Cruz wanted to donate to charity any money left to him in a trust set up by his mother.

Before the shooting, Cruz told the parents of a schoolmate who took him in after his mother's death that he would inherit $800,000 when he turns 22. His mother died in November 2017, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. His father died a few years earlier.

Any money that Cruz inherits would have to be split with his younger brother, Zachary.

49 PHOTOS
Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida
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Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People wait for loved ones as they are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students leave Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Eva Claire HAMBACH (Photo credit should read EVA CLAIRE HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students are released from a lockdown outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Medical personnel tend to a victim outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Medical personnel tend to a victim outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Police and security vehicles are seen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Michele Eve SANDBERG has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Byline: Michele Eve SANDBERG] instead of [Eva Hambach]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention from all your online services and delete it from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Students react following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is seen after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Security speak with people near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michelle Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELLE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students gather following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami, February 14, 2018 . A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
A student wears a Valentine's pin as she leaves Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: Fire Rescue personnel work the scene at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Police and fire rescue vehicles converge on Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
MAJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL, PARKLAND, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 31, 2017: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
Students leave Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents confer with security following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami, February 14, 2018 . A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers ride in the back of a pick up truck with a victim outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A law enforcement officer directs traffic outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A young woman who just walked out from the direction of the high school, who refused to give her name, gets a hug as she reaches the overpass at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway just south of the campus of Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School where a shooting occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 in Parkland, Fla. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A student reacts as she talks to a television reporter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
SWAT vehicles converge on Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Students react at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
People react at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018 following a school shooting. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students are released from a lockdown outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students are evacuated by police out of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Students react following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Students react following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Students react following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018. A gunman opened fire at the Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused 'numerous fatalities' and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help. The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Students are brought across Coral Springs Drive from the campus of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Waiting for word from students at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway just south of the campus of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
SWAT vehicles converge on Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Waiting for word from students at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway just south of the campus of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Trauma surgeon Dr. Igor Nichiporenko (C) and director for emergency medicine Dr. Evan Boyar (R) address the media outside the Broward Health Emergency facility where victims were taken following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami on February 14, 2018. Seventeen people were killed when a 19-year-old former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at the Florida high school, the local sheriff said, calling the scene 'horrific.' Broward County Sheriff Steve Israel said the victims were a mix of students and adults, though he could not confirm if the adults were teachers. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Waiting for word from students at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway just south of the campus of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Florida Governor Rick Scott (4th-L) visits Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting that killed 17 people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. A former student armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a Florida high school, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel identified the gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who had been expelled for 'disciplinary reasons.' / AFP PHOTO / Gaston De Cardenas (Photo credit should read GASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty Images)
BROWARD, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 14: Students meet their families following a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward, Florida on February 14, 2018. At least 17 people were killed Wednesday when a lone gunman opened fire on a Florida high school, according to police. The victims are a mix of students and adults, officials said. (Photo by Carlos Miller/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Police vehicles block the road to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, following a shooting that killed 17 people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. A former student armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a Florida high school, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel identified the gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who had been expelled for 'disciplinary reasons.' / AFP PHOTO / Gaston De Cardenas (Photo credit should read GASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: Nathanael Clark (L) and his father, John Clark, speak to the media after Nathanael escaped the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14: Sarah Crescitelli leans on her mother, Stacy Crescitelli (L) after she escaped the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The location where suspect Nikolas Cruz was caught by police at a townhouse in Pelican Pointe at Wyndham Lakes in Coral Cables, Florida following the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Febreuary 14, 2018. A former student armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a Florida high school, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel identified the gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who had been expelled for 'disciplinary reasons.' / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve SANDBERG (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents meet at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel to pick up their children following a mass shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Parents meet at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel to pick up their children following a mass shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein also said in an email on Tuesday that the attorney handling the estate has not yet filed to open it for administration.

Prosecutors have signaled their intention to seek the death penalty for Cruz in the massacre, which was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. His public defense attorneys have said he would plead guilty if prosecutors withdrew the threat of capital punishment, but they have declined to do that.

"We still stand ready to plead guilty to 34 consecutive life sentences without parole," Finkelstein said in an email to Reuters on Tuesday.

"We still believe it is in the best interests of the families and the community to end this case," he wrote.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall Editing by Frank McGurty and Frances Kerry)

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