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Florida shooting suspect appears in court as his lawyers seek to avoid the death penalty

His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty.

Nikolas Cruz appeared in court dressed in prison uniform.
Nikolas Cruz appeared in court dressed in prison uniform.
Image: PA Images

THE SUSPECT IN the Florida school shooting appeared in today for a procedural hearing about how legal paperwork would be handled in the case.

Nikolas Cruz said nothing when he made his first in-person appearance in Broward County Circuit Court. A previous appearance had been by a video connection from jail.

Cruz, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defence team.

The hearing concerned rules that will govern how documents are sealed. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she was in favor of openness whenever possible.

Cruz is charged with killing 17 people and wounding many others in last Wednesday’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which he once attended.

His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.

The court appearance came after a weekend in which student survivors of the deadly Florida school shooting sought to become the public face of a revived gun control movement. That would put them on a potential collision course with President Donald Trump.

Several of the students have criticised the president, whose election was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association and who ran on a platform opposing gun control.

Trump spent the weekend at his estate in South Florida, only an hour’s drive from the high school. His only mentions of the massacre came in tweets on Saturday contending that the FBI was too focused on the Russia investigation to respond to warnings about the suspect and mocking Democrats for failing to pass gun control.

Nikolas Cruz appears in court Cruz kept his head bowed throughout the appearance. Source: Mike Stocker/PA Images

“You’re the president. You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us,” said David Hogg, a 17-year-old student at the high school, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“How dare you,” he added.

After more than a day of criticism from the students, the White House said the president would hold a “listening session” with unspecified students on Wednesday and meet Thursday with state and local security officials.

Meanwhile, Florida politicians scrambled to produce legislation in response to the 14 February attack.

In a TV interview, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio embraced a Democratic bill in the Florida Legislature to allow courts to temporarily prevent people from having guns if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.

Emma Gonzalez, another student survivor, gave an impassioned speech at a weekend rally. On Sunday, she cited Trump, Rubio and Scott by name in a warning to politicians backed by the NRA.

“Now is the time to get on the right side of this, because this is not something that we are going to let sweep under the carpet,” she said on “Meet the Press.”

Seeking to increase pressure for gun control, the students plan to visit the state capitol in Tallahassee this week to demand immediate action.

They are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities on 24 March.

Read: Florida students to march on Washington to ‘shame’ politicians into changing gun laws >

WATCH: Survivor ‘calls BS’ on Trump’s response to mass shooting at Florida school >

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Associated Press

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