‘Aggressive and dangerous’: Jury learns more about Parkland school shooter’s problems

Cruz likely did not take psychiatric meds 5 months before massacre, pharmacist says

The Parkland school shooter's defense team called Susan Skolly-Danziger, a pharmacist with expertise in forensic toxicology, to the witness stand on Tuesday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listened to more of the defense’s witnesses during his trial’s death penalty phase on Tuesday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.

Susan Skolly-Danziger, a pharmacist with expertise in forensic toxicology, said she billed $200 hourly to review records of Nikolas Cruz’s newborn drug testing and mental health treatment record including while in Broward County’s main jail.

Susan Skolly-Danziger, a pharmacist with expertise in forensic toxicology, testified as an expert witness on Tuesday in Broward County court. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Skolly-Danziger said Brenda Woodard reported she had consumed alcohol while pregnant with Cruz, and she also said that alcohol is considered a neurotoxin that can affect the fetus. She concluded that Cruz’s psychiatric treatment was inconsistent.

“The medications weren’t filled regularly,” Skolly-Danziger said about Cruz’s treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder by at least four psychiatrists.

Assistant State Attorney Nicole Chiappone questioned Skolly-Danziger and said the record shows the reported alcohol exposure was during Woodard’s first trimester. Skolly-Danziger said Cruz was likely not on any medication about five months before the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre in Parkland.

THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR

Jessica Clark Flournoy, an exceptional student education counselor, said she met Nikolas Cruz when he was a student at Westglades Middle School in Parkland. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis and Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus questioned Jessica Clark Flournoy, an exceptional student education counselor who met Cruz at Westglades Middle School when he was in sixth and seventh grade.

Clark Flournoy said Cruz was consumed with wanting people to like him and staying ahead of his brother. She said after misbehaving he required an escort to go from class to class. She read a report that Cruz was in the PROMISE program after he ripped apart a bathroom faucet.

“He struggled academically ... I think overtime his behavior worsened,” Clark Flournoy said later adding that Cruz had told her he wanted to go to another school and he couldn’t understand why he was still at Westglades Middle in 2013.

Both the defense and the prosecution focused some of their questions on Tuesday in Broward County court on Nikolas Cruz's behavioral problems at West Glades Middle School in Parkland. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Clark Flournoy said she didn’t think Cruz was a bully, but once Marcus gave her some examples on the record, she told him she had changed his mind. Marcus said a behavioral therapist had to sit with Cruz for four classes and a teacher reported being afraid of him.

Marcus also included reports about Cruz showing up to class in a Spiderman costume, insulting students and teachers, and fixating on guns, death, and violence in class. During a lesson about the Civil War, his questions were so disturbing a teacher believed these merited an internal suspension.

“What did it sound like when Lincoln was shot? Did it go pop, pop, pop really fast? Was there blood everywhere?”

“After the war, what did they do with all of the bodies? Did people eat them?”

Another teacher at Westglades Middle described Cruz’s behavior as “aggressive and dangerous.”

Marcus also cited a 2013 report about Cruz saying that “If his ship is going to sink, he rather go down with the ship being known for something!” Marcus compared this statement to a threatening video Cruz recorded of himself three days before the shooting.

“It’s going to be a big event and when you see me on the news you will all know who I am,” Cruz said in the video. “You’re all going to die. I can’t wait.”

Curtis said Cruz was later transferred from Westglades Middle in Parkland to Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach.

THE FAMILY FRIEND

Attorneys with the defense and the prosecution in the Parkland school shooter's death penalty phase deposed Finai Browd on July 14 and played a video of the deposition on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, the jurors started to watch a video of a July 14 deposition. Finai Browd, a long-time friend of Cruz’s adoptive mother Lynda Cruz, answered questions by Casey Secor, a capital defense attorney, and by Marcus. Browd described Cruz’s behavioral problems and difficulty learning.

“You had to be a moron not to know,” Browd said.

Browd said she met Lynda Cruz while they worked together in New York and she had about four miscarriages. Browd said they remained friends even when they both moved to South Florida, but they both drifted apart in 2010.

Nikolas Cruz engaged in “inappropriate touching with my daughter,” Browd said.

Jurors continued watching the video on Tuesday morning. It was then that Browd added that Cruz had also tried to watch her daughter, who was a couple of years older than him, while she was showering and had put his hands under her shirt.

Browd said Cruz didn’t get enough mental health treatment, but when Marcus listed what the record showed about the help Lynda Cruz sought, she changed her mind. Marcus also asked Browd about Cruz’s posture as a child, but he described Cruz’s most frequent posture while facing them in court.

Marcus: “Did you see him lower his head and slump his shoulders to make himself look more sympathetic?”

Browd: “When he got in trouble, like any child, he would do the ‘Poor Me.’”

THE CASE STATUS

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.” Curtis and McNeill have been sharing photos of his childhood ever since.

The defense has presented 16 witnesses in six days, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering addict who was arrested with his biological mother for cocaine possession when she was pregnant with Cruz. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Cruz’s mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15 to kill.

In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Cruz rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured and the loved ones of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements. The defense team has over 80 witnesses, according to McNeill.

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.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listened to more of the defense’s witnesses during his trial’s death penalty phase on Tuesday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.

Watch the 3 p.m. report

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listened to more of the defense’s witnesses during his trial’s death penalty phase on Tuesday in Broward County court.

LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances

Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to harsher punishment. The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty focuses on evidence to support this.

Mitigating: Lessens the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team that is working to save Cruz’s life is presenting evidence to support this.

Source: Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

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Curtis showed this letter on Tuesday to the jury again

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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.