Public defenders want to drop Florida massacre suspect

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The public defenders representing the suspect in the Parkland school massacre asked to withdraw from the case Wednesday, saying the defendant will soon receive nearly a half-million dollars in life insurance money and no longer qualify for free legal representation.

The Broward County Public Defender's Office filed the unexpected notice late Wednesday, saying Nikolas Cruz is set to receive more than $432,000 shortly from his late mother's policy. Under state law, the public defender can only represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys.

Cruz, 20, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 14, 2017, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 17 counts of attempted murder. He faces a possible death sentence.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and his chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, said their office learned about the insurance policy this week. At a court hearing last year, their office had said the amount was likely to be about $30,000, too little to hire a private attorney.

"By statute, we can only represent the poor and indigent," Weekes told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday. "We are asking to withdraw from the case because the defendant is no longer poor."

But Cruz may not get the money. It is likely that the victims' families who are suing Cruz will claim the money should go to them and judges will have to determine who gets it. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the criminal case, has not set a hearing on the public defenders' withdrawal motion.

Prosecutors declined comment.

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Parkland, Fla. keeps memory of shooting alive
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Parkland, Fla. keeps memory of shooting alive
An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wears a t-shirt with the names of the victims of the shooting, as she plays the piano at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal (R), who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attends a baseball game her brother is playing in, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries next to his family after painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Listening to his son's favourite music, Oliver painted the mural from beginning to end, but as soon as he finished, he broke down and had to walk inside the hotel to mourn. Later he went out again to give interviews to the media to call for more gun control. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries in his hotel room before painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Minutes before leaving the hotel room to paint the mural, Oliver put on his son's headphones and played his favourite music. Almost immediately, he started to cry and he had to take them off. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A man looks at pictures of the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland on the program during the graduation ceremony for students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver (R) and Patricia Padauy (2nd R), parents of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, look at the screen as they wait backstage to receive their son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up her son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walks past his son's classmates, during their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, helps her brother practice baseball at their house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Autographed sports t-shirts, pictures and placards are seen among other mementoes at the room of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
The entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is seen after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A member of the media pushes a cart full of equipment in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A garbage bag full of crime scene tape is seen close to the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks to a journalist during an interview before attending her son's high school graduation ceremony to receive his diploma, at home in Parkland, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, looks for her belongings inside her clear backpack at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
The initials of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a placard are placed on the fence at Park Trails Elementary School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up a placard as he paints a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. As he paints the mural Oliver listens to his son's favourite music on the headphones that belonged to him. The mural depicts his son the day that he died, carrying flowers to his girlfriend for Valentine's day. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Carlos Rodriguez (2nd R), student and shooting survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks with his schoolmates and co-founders of Stories Untold, a movement created to encourage victims of gun violence to share their stories, during a meeting at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Pictures of Joaquin Oliver and Aaron Feis, victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are seen on a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
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