FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As prosecutors prepare for their opportunity to disprove the Parkland school shooter’s defense, the judge in the case ruled Thursday on two of the defense’s requests to limit their effort.
Nikolas Cruz’s obsession with video games, his alleged lies during mental health testing, and his drawings of swastikas are among the subjects of the evidence in dispute.
“She didn’t specifically give the state the green light to introduce the swastika evidence. But she did give them a yellow light to proceed with caution,” said Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, who read the orders.
Scherer asked the prosecution to “make sure to tie the introduction of that evidence” to specifics presented by the defense, said Weinstein, a former federal and state prosecutor who has been following Cruz’s death penalty case closely.
In her order on the evidence, Scherer wrote that expert testimony on a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy, which is associated with a lack of empathy, will be admissible. The prosecution said an expert used the swastikas as evidence of the diagnosis.
“Mental health is a key issue in this case,” Scherer wrote in the order.
A defense witness diagnosed Cruz with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder due to his biological mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, and agreed that the disorder “causes people to commit murder.”
Scherer ruled that expert testimony on malingering, signs that Cruz was pretending to have mental health symptoms that he didn’t have during testing at the Broward County main jail, will also be admissible.
Scherer also wrote that defense witnesses testified about Cruz’s “unhealthy obsession with violent video games” and his “reactions to playing the games,” so the prosecution is allowed to do the same.
The defense also wanted Scherer to not allow Christopher Ferguson, a clinical psychologist and expert on violence and video games, to testify for the prosecution. Scherer denied the request in a separate order and offered a solution.
“Should any legal issues come up regarding this witness at deposition, this Court will ensure that appropriate time is made to hear any such issues,” Scherer wrote adding, “The State agreed that it would not present his testimony on the first day of its rebuttal case.”
In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. This resulted in only two possible sentences for his Feb. 14, 2018 crimes: The death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty rested on Aug. 4 after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days. The public defenders who are trying to save his life rested on Sept. 14 after calling 26 witnesses in 11 days.
Since a unanimous vote is required for execution in Florida, the defense only needs to convince one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death penalty. Cruz turns 24 years old on Sept. 24.
Read the judge’s order on the prosecution’s witness
Read judge’s order on rebuttal evidence
Watch the testimony of the defense’s key expert witness