Hurricane Ian delays state’s rebuttal during Parkland school shooter’s death penalty trial

Prosecution’s rebuttal centers on evidence of sociopathy

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer announced Tuesday afternoon that the prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter will not be able to continue presenting witnesses until Monday.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer announced Tuesday afternoon that the prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter will not be able to continue presenting witnesses until Monday.

During the first day of rebuttal, the effort to disprove Nikolas Cruz’s defense, the prosecution called five witnesses, including a forensic psychiatrist, to testify in front of the jury in Broward County court, in Fort Lauderdale.

The first witnesses were Sgt. Gloria Crespo and Detective Clint Williams. They testified about the hand-etched swastikas Nikolas Cruz displayed on his rifle and boot during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The third witness was Detective Nicholas Masters who testified about some of Cruz’s racist, antisemitic, and misogynistic searches online. Masters also listed Cruz’s searches and posts related to child porn and animal abuse, including his admission to killing cats.

“I hate people and I hate animals,” Cruz wrote, according to Masters.

Before calling the fourth witness, the prosecution and the defense argued about whether or not jurors should learn about Cruz’s lack of remorse to support a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy, which is associated with a lack of empathy.

The fourth witness was Deputy Jean-Joel Marque-Pucheu, who described Cruz’s behavior as an inmate in the Broward County main jail. He read letters and drawings that contained threats of violence and self-harm, and references to Satan. He said an unusual form of self-expression in his cell, near the toilet, also caught his attention.

“I noticed some drawing on the wall, it looked like blood, and I asked Mr. Cruz, ‘How he did it?’ It was a five-point star and three number six,” said Marque Pucheu, a member of a specialized unit that focuses on the involuntary institutionalization and mental health examination of inmates.

Deputies found the evidence during an inspection in May. Marque-Pucheu said Cruz’s writing included erratic sentences such as “killing the teacher first,” “I just hope there is another mass shooting,” “I will kill your children,” I love [expletive] pain and death,” “I have been taking painkillers to get a heart attack,” and “Please forgive me.”

THE DIAGNOSIS

Dr. Charles L. Scott, a forensic psychiatrist with the University of California with decades of experience, was the fifth witness of the day.

Aside from reviewing the evidence in the case, Scott said he spent about 21 hours with Cruz, over three days in March, to “learn about how he thinks” and to “observe” and consider how “does he present versus how does he answer” during psychological testing.

Scott also said there was evidence of irritability and aggressiveness, and two incidents when he was older than 15 and physically abused his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, who died of complications with pneumonia in 2017.

“She tells [a Henderson Behavioral Health mobile crisis team member] that [Cruz] hit her. She fell to the ground. She hit her face and there was blood coming out,” Scott said adding that months before she died, “He hits her on the face to the point where she does go to have to have a dental checkup appointment.”

Scott recorded his March 1-3 sessions with Cruz, so prosecutors played some of the interactions to jurors. A video shows Cruz sitting across from Scott and saying, he had shot a gun in the backyard because of “the thrill that it was against the law.”

Scott concluded Cruz, who was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a child, met the criteria for a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, malingering, and antisocial personality disorder.

“This is a disorder about how people behave and interact with society ... because that’s what they want and that’s what they choose,” Scott said about APD.

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.

Closing arguments had been scheduled to begin after the first week of October, but that will change. Scherer said the courthouse will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday.

Scherer asked Scott and the jury to return to court on Monday to continue with his testimony. For more information about the court’s schedule change because of Hurricane Irma, call 954-831-7777.

Watch videos of today’s witnesses (Warning: Offensive content and expletives)

Crespo shows swastika on rifle

Williams shows swastika on boot

Masters reads online posts and searches

Marque-Pucheu describes Cruz’s behavior in jail

Psychiatrist describes his diagnosis

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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.