Judge allows prosecution to show Parkland school shooter’s interest in hate speech, child porn, animal abuse

Judge allows prosecution to include swastikas as evidence of antisocial personality disorder diagnosis

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer issued an order on Saturday allowing the defense to show the Parkland school shooter's swastikas to the jury during rebuttal.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The judge in the Parkland school shooter’s case is allowing the prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty to show the jury evidence of his interest in hate symbols, child porn, and animal abuse.

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer issued an order on Saturday adding there will be limits to such evidence as prosecutors work to disprove Nikolas Cruz’s defense.

“This evidence is relevant and admissible solely towards the State’s endeavor to prove a particular mental health diagnosis,” Scherer wrote.

Cruz hand etched swastikas on each side of a magazine he loaded into the AR-15 rifle he used during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The prosecution plans to present the evidence to support a diagnosis of sociopathy in response to the defense witness’s diagnosis of alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder.

Scherer is also allowing Michael P. Brannon, a forensic psychologist, to testify about how this racist and prejudicial evidence supports a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

According to Scherer’s order, the prosecution had more than 400 options on Cruz’s searches and selected 44 related to hate speech, 55 on child porn, and four on animal abuse.

“The State shall choose up to five (5) specific terms or posts from each,” Scherer wrote.

CASE STATUS

In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. This limited the penalty phase to a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The prosecution 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.

The prosecution’s rebuttal is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and closing arguments after the first week of October. Scherer decided the jury will be sequestered during deliberations.

Read the judge’s Sept. 24 order

Read the judge’s Sept. 22 orders

Watch the testimony of the defense’s key expert witness

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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."