Zachary Cruz still can’t touch guns or ammunition, and he never can go back to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where his brother Nikolas shot and killed 17 people Feb. 14. But he’s going home after a 10-day stay in the Broward County Jail.
Cruz pleaded no contest to trespassing on school grounds and will serve six months of probation, during which he cannot possess either firearms or ammunition. Invoking a state law passed in the wake of the Parkland shootings, a judge last week had temporarily barred him from possessing weapons, saying he could harm himself.
Cruz had been held at the jail on $500,000 bond. The normal bond for trespassing is $25. Prosecutors said after Zachary Cruz’s arrest that he showed the “same flags” exhibited by his older brother. They used that behavior as the basis for asking for his bond to be set at $750,000. He was released from custody at about 1 p.m.
Following Thursday’s hearing before Judge Melinda Brown, Cruz’s attorney, Joseph Kimok, blasted the decision to set the 18-year-old’s bond so high, and called his confinement unlawful and unconstitutional.
“It’s a frustrating day for justice,” Kimok said. “Zachary Cruz pleaded to this case in order to get out of jail, and the reason that he was in jail is because he had a half-million-dollar bond the judge set on a trespass case. Because of that half-million-dollar bond, he spent the last 10 days behind a locked door in a jumpsuit.
“The fundamental premise of our criminal justice system is that you are innocent until proven guilty. But when a judge sets a bond so high that you have to plead guilty in order to get out of jail, that premise is destroyed.”
Cruz cannot ever return to the Parkland school, where he once was a student, and under the terms of his probation must stay at least 1 mile away from the campus, Judge Melinda Brown ruled. He also is barred from stepping onto a school campus unless he is enrolled at that school.
Additionally, he cannot have contact with any victims of the shootings, in which 17 people died and 17 others were injured, or their families.
Kimok said Zachary Cruz, who has visited his brother in jail, is being punished for his brother’s crimes.
“If he was any other kid at that school, he wouldn’t have been arrested,” Kimok said. “In fact, there have been many onlookers who have gone to that school to pay their respects, or for whatever reason. Only Zachary was arrested.”
He added: “Nikolas was a disturbed young man who caused a lot of problems with his family and with his school. Zachary is not his brother, and should not have been treated like he was.”
As part of his plea deal, Cruz must also continue living with Rocxanne Deschamps at a Lantana-area mobile home where he and Nikolas stayed last year after their mother died. Deschamps was present in court Thursday but left without speaking with reporters. Searches of the home, in the Lantana Cascades park off Congress Avenue south of Lantana Road, on Feb. 14 and March 22 found no weapons.
Cruz also must wear a GPS monitor during his probation, cannot touch drugs or alcohol, must submit to random drug-testing and get therapy, Brown ruled.
The March 19 arrest followed the third time Zachary Cruz had trespassed at the school since the Feb. 14 shootings. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Cruz was on campus twice on the day he was arrested. The first time came between 2 and 2:30 p.m. when classes were still in session.
According to the filing, Cruz walked around several parts of the campus, including the freshman building where his brother used an AR-15 rifle to gun down 14 students and three staff members. He also walked around the school’s amphitheater and courtyard, according to the document.
Cruz returned to the school a second time at about 4:30 p.m. March 19, when he was arrested. He told deputies he visited the school “to reflect on the shooting and soak it all in” and admitted he also had been on campus a week before.
In its court filing, the sheriff’s office stated that Cruz “has revealed a pattern of violent and combative behavior” during the past six years.
The sheriff’s office listed several incidents, including one in August 2011 in which his mother complained to deputies that Cruz was hitting glass doors with pool equipment and turning over furniture. Cruz was 11 years old at the time.
The Broward courts also have ordered Zachary Cruz to have no contact with his brother while he awaits trial. Prosecutors said that Zachary had been overheard talking during their visits about “how popular” Nikolas had become since the shootings and about even starting a “pen pal or fan club” with his admirers.
In court Thursday, Kimok read a statement telling Brown that Cruz was sorry for his actions and that he didn’t intend to scare anyone when he visited the school, where he had friends, knew teachers and felt part of the community.
"Having lost his mother, having lost his brother, having his life dissected, Zachary did his best to cope. He didn’t turn to drugs, alcohol or violence. He turned to his skateboard and the one activity that gave him solace. And he turned to Stoneman Douglas, where he had felt welcome," Kimok said.
"Zachary’s visits to Stoneman Douglas were not to scare anyone. He went after hours. He didn’t expect to see anyone. He just wanted to try to make sense of this. Nothing else."