The suspect in a Florida school shooting may plead guilty in an effort to avoid the death penalty and allow a traumatised community to avert a protracted trial and move on, his attorney said.
“This is an opportunity to put the criminal case behind and help the victims' families begin to try and pick up pieces of their lives for our community to heal and to figure out how we stop these things from ever happening again,” Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told CNN.
Accused shooter Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Mr Finkelstein told NBC his client was “willing to plead guilty to life without parole.”
While Mr Cruz has not yet entered a plea, arrest documents allege that he confessed to authorities he was “the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw on the hallways and on the school grounds”.
Mr Finkelstein said the key question was now one of punishment.
“The only question is, does he live or does he die?” Mr Finkelstein said.
In the days after the bloodshed in Parkland, a portrait has begun to emerge of a disturbed young man whose warning signs repeatedly went unheeded.
The FBI has admitted that it did not follow up on a tip that Mr Cruz had weapons and a “desire to kill,” and the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that welfare and law enforcement investigators had looked into Mr Cruz cutting himself and discussing his desire to purchase a gun on social media.
Another attorney representing Mr Cruz, Melissa McNeil, described him to reporters as a “broken human being”.