Grieving families fight public defender’s bid to drop Parkland shooter Cruz as client

FILE - In this April 5, 2019, file photo, Parkland school suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The public defenders representing Cruz have made an unexpected request to withdraw from the case, saying the man will soon receive nearly a half million dollars from his late mother’s life insurance policy. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)
FILE – In this April 5, 2019, file photo, Parkland school suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The public defenders representing Cruz have made an unexpected request to withdraw from the case, saying the man will soon receive nearly a half million dollars from his late mother’s life insurance policy. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File) AP

Family members still grieving for loved ones killed in Florida’s worst school shooting on Wednesday urged a judge to deny the public defender’s request to drop confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooter Nikolas Cruz as a client because he’s in line for a hefty inheritance.

“To make us wait longer for a judgment, it’s just unbearable,” said Debbie Hixon, whose husband Christopher Hixon was the athletic director at the Parkland school. He was killed during the February 2019 mass murder that left 16 others dead and 17 more shot and wounded.

Hixon and other relatives of Cruz’s victims appeared in Broward County Circuit Court in Fort Lauderdale during a hearing to determine if the Broward County Public Defender’s Office should stop its taxpayer-paid representation of Cruz. Now 20, Cruz stands to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars from an annuity his deceased mother left for her children.

Shortly after Cruz was arrested for the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting, the court ruled him indigent, qualifying him as a client for public defender legal help. But last month, attorneys said they had only recently learned of the policy Lynda Cruz had left for her two sons — even though, as a prosecutor’s motion to deny the request pointed out, the issue was raised during a hearing a year ago .

As of last month, the inheritance, which fluctuates with the market, was worth more than $860,000. After splitting it with his brother, Cruz could be in line to receive as much as $430,000.

After hearing arguments, Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she’d rule on the defense motion to stop representing Cruz “as soon as possible” and told attorneys from both sides to continue to move forward on the case.

“It is my order today,” Scherer told the courtroom, “that everything continue as it were before this motion was filed. I’m ordering that all discovery continue.”

Cruz was arrested about a mile away from the Parkland crime scene and just a few hours after the shooting that sparked national debate over assault rifles and mental health screenings for gun buyers.

Cruz was charged with 34 counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder. Early on in the case, which has dragged through the court system now for well over a year, Cruz said he’d confess to the murders if prosecutors stopped asking for the death penalty. He eventually pleaded not guilty.

During an emotional hearing Wednesday, Cruz sat between his attorneys in his standard red jumpsuit, once lowering and shaking his head as he covered his face with his hands, seemingly unable to watch as Hixon made her plea to Judge Scherer to deny the public defenders request to drop Cruz.

During the hour-long hearing, Broward County prosecutors and attorneys representing the victim’s families, including some who have already filed civil lawsuits against Cruz, said their wish was to divide up the defendant’s assets between all the victims and let the case continue. The last thing they wanted was further delay in the case.

Broward prosecutor Joel Silvershein told Scherer that as of Wenesday morning Cruz had not claimed his possible inheritance. He also pointed out that he’s been eligible for the money for several months and that it would be taxed, trying to show that whatever amount Cruz might actually inherit wouldn’t come close to covering the expense of a lengthy death penalty case which could cost millions of dollars.

Attorney David Brill, who represents the family of Meadow Pollack, a student killed in the attack, said his client had filed a wrongful death suit against Cruz in civil court and doubted that any judgment would come close to the amount of money Cruz is set to inherit. He said the families real wish is to spread any judgment between the 34 victims and that the attorneys had no intention of accepting fees.

“Obviously [a judgment would be] far in excess of $426,000, but that hasn’t been decided yet,” Brill told the judge. “We’re entitled to damages, the question is just how much?”

Outside the courtroom after Scherer said she’d take the arguments under advisement and rule shortly, Hixon brushed aside any thought of collecting money.

“It really shouldn’t be about money, we know he did this,” she said. “I just want him to die, to get the death penalty.”

from the deaths of their children at the hands of Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz stood before a judge Wednesday and implored that