Defense shows report of Parkland school shooter’s threat to stab teacher, letter on ‘dreams of killing others’

Psychiatrists testify about inconsistency of treatment

The defense team that is working to save Nikolas Cruz's life continued to call the mental health experts who treated him before the 2018 Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to testify about his psychiatric treatment.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Psychiatrists testified on Thursday that when the Parkland school shooter was a 9-year-old student he threatened to stab a teacher and an aide, hit a classmate with a lunch box, hit someone with a rock, and later as a teenager demonstrated “a preoccupation with guns and the military” and was dreaming of “killing others” and being “covered in blood.”

A decade before the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Dr. Laurie Karpf said Nikolas Cruz already had “trouble with anger.” She said he had “cursed” at his teacher, destroyed a mailbox, and when he didn’t want to do his math homework threw the book in the pool.

Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis established Karpf met Cruz when he was 9 and treated him from 2008 to 2011 when other experts had already determined he was dealing with behavioral problems. At 10 years old, Karpf said Cruz had outbursts when “something frustrated him” or “agitated him.”

“When kids like that get upset, get frustrated, it’s very difficult for them to control their behavior,” Karpf said after reporting Cruz was treated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.

While Cruz struggled with aggression and impulse control, psychiatrists testified on Thursday about making changes to his medication and the lack of consistency in his treatment. Both of the psychiatrists who treated him from 2008 to 2017 testified they couldn’t have anticipated that Cruz would go on to commit mass murder with an AR-15 at 19 years old.

Psychiatrists Dr. Laurie Karpf, left, and Dr. Brett Negin, right, testify about treating Nikolas Cruz as a minor on Wednesday in Broward County court. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill said on Tuesday that her team has over 80 witnesses to testify. They called their first nine on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to establish his biological mother, Brenda Woodard, used drugs and alcohol while pregnant and he suffered from developmental delays.

On Thursday, Curtis also called Dr. Brett J. Negin, a psychiatrist who treated Cruz from 2012 to 2017 after his insurance plan changed. Negin said his office follow-ups with Cruz were an average of 15 to 20 minutes long and that he wasn’t aware of his problems at Westglades Middle School.

Negin agreed with Karpf’s diagnosis and suspected Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS, a previous subtype of autism now known as autism spectrum disorder. Negin said he never diagnosed him with autism.

Some jurors took notes when Karpf and Negin discussed the medications they prescribed. Karpf prescribed Risperdal, Focalin, and Strattera when he was a third-grade student. She adjusted the dosage to deal with side effects and later removed Strattera. Negin said he decided to increase Risperdal when Cruz was a sixth-grade student to deal with “ongoing defiant behaviors” and “irritability.”

Negin said he wrote a letter in 2013, per the request of Cruz’s guardian, to refer him to a residential placement. On April 2014, Negin said he was aware Cruz was a student at Cross Creek School, a grades K-12 center, at 1010 NW 31 Ave., in Pompano Beach that serves the Emotional Behavioral Disabilities (EBD) student population of the northern half of Broward County.

Curtis showed Negin a letter Cross Creek Schools employees addressed to him warning that 15-year-old Cruz was dreaming of “killing others,” was obsessed with “guns and the military,” and his mother feared that he would arm himself with “a hatchet” that had vanished from her home. He said he never received the letter.

Read the letter

In August 2014, Negin said Cruz told him he wanted to go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Cruz would commit to learning how to shoot while he participated in MSD’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

“He had had some physical altercations with peers at his school,” Negin said about a session in November 2016 when Cruz told him he was eager to leave Cross Creek School.

Negin said he went without seeing Cruz for about 10 months. And in August 2017, Negin said he learned Cruz was no longer taking his medication and he was working as a cashier at the Dollar Tree store. Negin added he never heard from them after that appointment.

Cruz’s adoptive mother died of complications with pneumonia on Nov. 1, 2017, when he was 19. Cruz’s adoptive father, Roger Cruz, 67, died on Aug. 1, 2004, when Cruz was five. Cruz’s biological mother died of cancer last year.

CASE STATUS

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence, so Cruz is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October.

Prosecutors rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 who survived the shooting wounds they suffered on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High’s 1200 building.

After defense testimony on Thursday, Cruz told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that he understood his defense had decided not to present controversial scientific neuro evidence that the prosecution had objected to.

Scherer said the court is in recess until 9 a.m. on Monday.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

The Parkland school shooter's defense team called two psychiatrists on Thursday who concured with prior witnesses about the inconsistency of his much-needed psychiatric and psychological treatment.

Watch the 4 p.m. report

Two psychiatrists who had Nikolas Cruz as a patient before the school shooting in Parkland testified on Thursday in Broward County court.

Watch the 3 p.m. report

A decade before the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Dr. Laurie Karpf said Nikolas Cruz already had “trouble with anger.” She said he had “cursed” at his teacher, destroyed a mailbox, and when he didn’t want to do his math homework threw the book in the pool.

Watch the 12 p.m. report

The Parkland school shooter's defense team called two of the psychiatrists who treated him as a child and a teenager.

SEQUESTRATION RULE

Scherer warned witnesses who have yet to testify to stop watching the proceedings. She said on Tuesday that the prosecution that is seeking the death penalty had invoked the rule of sequestration, meaning witnesses cannot be in the courtroom to listen to the testimony of other witnesses or watch the proceeding on television or online.

Scherer said her order excludes mental health experts.

“Your testimony could be compromised. Your ability to testify could be compromised,” Scherer warned the witnesses who have yet to testify.

Watch a video of the judge’s order

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the Parkland school shooter’s death penalty phase, warned witnesses on Tuesday to stop watching the proceedings after the prosecution invoked the rule of sequestration.

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.