Prosecutors seek to establish mental health disorders were not ‘severe enough’ to explain Parkland school shooting

Mental health experts treating Cruz say there were no ominous signs to foretell massacre

From left, Frederick M. Kravitz, a clinical psychologist and two psychiatrists Dr. Laurie Karpf and Dr. Brett J. Negin testify about Nikolas Cruz's treatment in Broward County court. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – During cross-examination, Broward County prosecutors confronted the Parkland school shooter’s defense witnesses about their violence risk assessment after they testified on his mental health this week in Fort Lauderdale.

Frederick M. Kravitz, a retired clinical psychologist, said he treated Nikolas Cruz for about 13 months, as the boy was still grieving his adoptive father Roger Cruz, who died of a heart attack at 67 on Aug. 11, 2004 — when he was just five.

Kravitz testified on Wednesday that he met Cruz, 8, a troubled first-grade student with special needs at Coral Springs Elementary. He also met his stay-at-home adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, 57, a widow with anger issues, on April 26, 2007.

“Of course, we all know how this ended. Was there anything in what you saw from his behavior that could have foretold this event happening, what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas?” Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus asked Kravitz.

The psychologist and two psychiatrists who treated Cruz at different times during his childhood and adolescence said nothing indicated that Cruz would go on to become a school shooter — not the threat to stab a teacher and not his reported obsessions with guns and dreams about killing others.

“Not in my opinion. I have worked with some other very damaged kids and certainly to the best of my knowledge none of them have ever acted out like this,” Kravitz said.

The group of mental health professionals treated Cruz for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder — while observing traits associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

“Do you think there is anything about your evaluations or treatment that would have led you to think the defendant would kill 17 people?” Assistant State Attorney Nicole Chiappone asked Dr. Laurie Karpf, who testified on Thursday about treating Cruz from 2008 to 2011.

Karpf said, “No!”

Mark Dobson, a Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law professor, has been following the case. The criminal law veteran praised Chiappone’s last question during cross-examination.

“I don’t think it gets any better than it did for the state,” Dobson said during Thursday’s Local 10 News live stream. “I think she used great judgment in stopping at that point.”

Marcus also had a similar exchange with Dr. Brett J. Negin, who treated Cruz from 2012 to 2017. Their last session was about three months before Lynda Cruz died of complications with pneumonia and about six months before the massacre.

Marcus: “You are of course unaware that at this time, he is already considering being a mass shooter, you are not aware of that, are you?”

Negin: “No, I am not.”

Marcus: “Nothing about your mental status exam, your appointment with him, would have given you the knowledge that he was already exploring being a mass shooter, correct?”

Negin: “There is nothing in the record that would signify that whatsoever.”

Broward County Public Schools employees Dr. Nyrma N. Ortiz, a psychiatrist, and Rona O’Connor Kelly, a therapist, signed a two-page June 5, 2014 letter addressed to Negin.

“He has a preoccupation with guns and the military and perseverates on this topic inappropriately,” they wrote also warning that “he dreams of killing others” and of being “covered in blood.” They reported Cruz was “irritable and reactive,” “paranoid,” “defiant,” “verbally aggressive in the classroom” and “destructive.” Also, his mother feared he had a weapon.

“He had a hatchet that he used to chop a dead tree in the backyard, but his mother reported she could no longer find it,” they wrote.

Negin said the first time he saw the letter from Cross Creek School about Cruz’s behavior at age 15 was years after the Parkland school shooting during a deposition. The defense introduced the letter into evidence on Thursday.

“The cross-examination was trying to establish Mr. Cruz, as far as this doctor knew, did not have severe enough problems to explain the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” Dobson said about Marcus’s cross-examination of Negin.

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous jury vote, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder that he pleaded guilty to in October.

Read the letter

Watch Kravitz’s full Aug. 24 testimony

Watch Karpf’s full Aug. 25 testimony

Watch Negin’s full Aug. 25 testimony

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About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.

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."