Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the former student charged with killing 17 people at a Florida high school last month. Defense lawyers say he'll only plead guilty if his life is spared.
Prosecutors in the US state of Florida have filed formal notice of their plan to pursue the death penalty ahead of a court hearing on Wednesday.
"The state intends to seek the death penalty against defendant Nikolas Jacob Cruz," the state attorney for Broward County, Michael Satz, said in the document.
Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder over the shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in southern Florida on February 14.
The 19-year-old is accused of walking into his former school with a semi-automatic weapon and opening fire on students and staff.
Cruz is due to appear in a Fort Lauderdale court on Wednesday for formal arraignment, where he will be asked to plead to the charges. His defense lawyers have said he is willing to plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue a death sentence.
"We still stand ready to immediately plead guilty to 34 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole," Howard Finkelstein, a county public defender, said.
"We are not saying he is not guilty but we can't plead guilty while death is still on the table."
If Cruz does not enter a plea, a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by the judge, Finkelstein said.
In Tuesday's court filing, the prosecutor said there were several reasons why the death penalty was justified, including that Cruz "knowingly created a great risk of death" to many people, and that the shooting was committed in a "cold, calculated and premeditated manner."
Thousands of shoes have been placed in front of the US Capitol to remember children lost to gun violence
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of students across the US are expected to stage a school walkout in a show of protest against gun violence exactly one month after the Parkland shooting.
Ahead of the walkout, protesters left 7,000 pairs of shoes in front of the Capitol building in Washington on Tuesday to symbolize the number of children killed by gun violence in the US since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.
The global advocacy group Avaaz — a US-based civic organization — planned the protest.
nm/cmk (Reuters, AP, AFP)