A victim of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland is asking that lawyers on both sides be removed from the Nikolas Cruz case, due to their offices’ cooperation with the PROMISE Program.
Alex Arreaza, the attorney for 15-year-old Stoneman Douglas student Anthony Borges, filed a motion last week seeking to disqualify the State Attorney’s Office from prosecuting Cruz. A separate motion was also filed to bar the Public Defender’s Office from representing Cruz.
The argument is based on the collaborative agreement reported on previously by Sunshine State News. Both offices were parties to that agreement -- including, by name, Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes and State Attorney Michael J. Satz -- along with Broward County Public Schools, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and others.
The agreement laid out the rules of the PROMISE Program, which sought to keep students out of the criminal justice system by disciplining them within their respective schools for certain offenses, rather than having the students arrested.
Arreaza’s motions argue this could be a problem for the State Attorney's and Public Defender’s offices. Arreaza claims the PROMISE Program “allowed, at least in part, the murderous rampage to be committed by the defendant.”
Cruz reportedly showed several signs of bad behavior that some have argued should have resulted in him being arrested well before the February shooting.
That’s a problem, Arreaza says, because “the Office of the State Attorney is attempting to prosecute a person whose behavior and actions they avoided addressing with law enforcement prior to February 2018, and who they now want to prosecute regardless of their role in helping to create this ‘monster’.” In other words, the State Attorney's Office may have an incentive at trial to put the full blame on Cruz, when they may bear some of the responsibility due to their participation with the PROMISE Program.
The same goes for the Public Defender’s Office, according to Arreaza. “A defense attorney’s ability to defend a client is also impaired when a lawyer cannot consider, recommend, or carry out an appropriate course of action for the client because of the lawyer’s other interests.” The motion argues the Public Defender’s Office has an incentive to downplay the PROMISE Program’s possible role in the lead-up to the shooting, thus creating a conflict.
The motions call for attorneys outside Broward County to be brought in to conduct the trial, because Borges and his family “are still going through an enormous amount of suffering and do not want to go through this traumatic experience again in a second trial if the conviction in this case is reversed.”
Cruz is facing the death penalty after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the shooting spree at the Parkland high school on Valentine's Day.
Borges, who is being represented by Arreaza, is improving after falling critically ill from an intestinal infection weeks after he was shot five times in the legs and torso. The student is credited with saving the lives of 20 students by attempting to close and lock a classroom door. In fact, Barcelona Football Club, the boy's favorite team, was so moved by Borges' story that players sent him an autographed jersey that included the signature of Lionel Messi and an offer to help organize a meeting with first-team players.
Ryan Nicol, a freelance writer who lives in Sunrise, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.
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