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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Rafael Olmeda

Parkland shooter had enough mental control to decide to ‘ruin’ Valentine’s Day forever, witness says

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If there’s one thing the mass shooter on trial for his life in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom has shown, it’s that he is in full control of his faculties, a prosecution expert testified Thursday.

Nikolas Cruz proved it time and again, said neuropsychologist Robert Denney, picking up his testimony where he left off on Tuesday. He proved it when he decided to kill three victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School because they gave him a “nasty look,” Denney said. He proved it when he timed his 17 murders because he wanted to “ruin” Valentine’s Day for the school. And he proved it when he scrawled a swastika, swear word and racial slur on his backpack and wore it to school.

Each of these was a behavior under the defendant’s control, Denney said. And none of it could be explained by the defense theory that Cruz suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The defense has asked the jury to consider Cruz’s lifelong mental health struggles as “mitigating factors” that justify mercy over a death sentence.

Denney and an earlier witness, psychiatrist Charles Scott, undermined defense arguments by accusing Cruz of deliberately lying to make his symptoms look worse than they are. The climax of Denney’s testimony came at the end, when prosecutor Jeff Marcus asked a battery of questions about whether fetal alcohol spectrum disorder could explain Cruz’s actions.

Cruz suffers from antisocial personality disorder, which is firmly in the patient’s control, Denney said. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is physiological, and its effects cannot be controlled.

But fetal alcohol spectrum disorder could not explain the amount of planning that went into the 2018 shooting, Denney said. It could not explain the swastikas on his backpack, the expressions of racism, the attack on a jail guard, or the internet searches for child porn.

And it could not explain any of the 17 murders, which Marcus listed one by one, identifying most victims by first name only.

Jurors will have to perform a similar task, weighing death or life for each of the 17 murder counts to which Cruz pleaded guilty a year ago. For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the jury’s recommendation has to be unanimous on at least one count.

Defense lawyer Casey Secor was cross-examining Denney on Thursday afternoon, questioning his summary of the defendant’s testimony and mental health.

The defense case for mercy, outlined by attorney Melisa McNeill in her opening statement last month, did not seek to explain or excuse Cruz’s actions but to “place them in context” so jurors could distinguish the crime from the person who committed it.

Closing arguments are scheduled for next week.


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