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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Rafael Olmeda

Prosecution witness challenges conclusions about Parkland gunman’s mental struggles

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The confessed Parkland gunman scored low on cognitive tests designed to measure his ability to develop and carry out long-term plans, solve problems and deal with abstract issues.

He scored very low, a prosecution expert testified Tuesday. Too low.

“If his attention problems were as bad as this, he couldn’t even complete the test,” said neuropsychologist Robert Denney, who was called by the prosecution to rebut the testimony introduced last month by defense expert Paul Conner.

Conner told jurors that Nikolas Cruz showed classic symptoms consistent with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, characterized in part by an inability to design long-term plans.

Denney sought to dismantle Conner’s conclusions using Conner’s own tests, many of which showed the Cruz indeed struggled with the effects of mental health impairments that were first identified when he was 3 years old. The problem, Denney said, is that Conner chose to ignore just as many test results showing Cruz falling within the normal ranges expected of someone with his IQ of 83.

Those results, Denney said, were “inconsistent” with someone suffering from neurological disorders — but perfectly consistent with someone who has antisocial personality disorder, which psychologists do not currently attribute to biological causes.

The distinction could be a matter of life and death. If jurors accept the defense explanation for Cruz’s behavior, it would be a mitigating factor that they could use to justify a sentence of life in prison. If they reject it, the prosecution will be closer to its goal of securing a sentence of death.

Cruz, 24, has confessed to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He faces the death penalty for each of the 17 murders.

A jury’s unanimous vote is required to sentence Cruz to death; otherwise he will be sentenced to life in prison.

The trial resumes Thursday.


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