Rebuttal expert witness: Parkland school shooter is faking during psychological testing

The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter continued with their effort to disprove the defense on Tuesday in Broward County court.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter continued with their effort to disprove the defense on Tuesday in Broward County court.

The prosecution called Robert L. Denney, who is among the few in the world who are board certified in both clinical neuropsychology and forensic psychology.

Denney testified on Monday and Tuesday and is set to continue on Thursday. He said he tested Nikolas Cruz in March in front of one of his attorneys and he recorded videos of the sessions.

“He is grossly exaggerating severe mental illness,” Denney said during his testimony.

Denney said he used his test results and evidence in the case to check on the reliability of about a dozen “very low” test scores presented by Paul Connor, a neuropsychologist who testified for the defense.

Dr. Kenneth Lyons, the defense’s lead witness, used Connor’s data to say Cruz fulfills the criteria for alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, which causes intellectual disabilities.

Denney said Connor’s test results are “not a valid reflection” of Cruz’s “real abilities” and that is probably because Cruz “was trying to look more impaired than he is.” Denney also said Connor “chose 79 out of 145 scores” to display on a graphic and 44 out of the 66 excluded were “above the impairment range.”

Denney was critical of the low finger tapping test result to measure Cruz’s simple motor speed. He said the low score would be “very obvious in a real-world situation,” and after watching videos of the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Denney said it wasn’t.

“The real world functioning doesn’t match the test result,” Denney said adding that “there is absolutely no way that finger tapping score is valid.”

Denney said Cruz’s achievements with the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at MSD, and his “fluid motion while moving down the hallway” of the 1200 building when he shot 34 people — killing 17 and injuring 17 others — were also inconsistent.

“Real world function always trumps psychological test results, so if I have a test result that looks very, very impaired, but the real world functioning demonstrates the ability that this test measures, one of them has got to give,” Denney said. “The real world doesn’t give. The test data is wrong.”

Denney’s testimony follows that of Dr. Charles L. Scott, a forensic psychiatrist with the University of California, who said Cruz’s “premeditated acts of aggression” are characteristic of anti-social personality disorder, also known as sociopathy.

“They disparage others. They have a lack of remorse about harming or hurting other people,” Scott said after mentioning Cruz’s racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic comments and posts.

CASE STATUS

The prosecution rested on Aug. 4 after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, and the public defenders who are trying to save his life rested on Sept. 14 after calling 26 witnesses in 11 days.

The prosecution started their rebuttal on Sept. 27, but there was a delay due to Hurricane Ian, so as of Tuesday afternoon they had called seven witnesses in three days.

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder last year. This allowed only two sentences: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.

Florida requires a jury’s unanimous vote to recommend death for each count, so the defense aims to convince one of the 12 jurors to choose life for all 17 counts.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the court is in recess until 9 a.m., on Thursday. The courthouse closes Wednesday for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.

Watch the 6 p.m. report

The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter continued with their effort to disprove the defense on Tuesday in Broward County court.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter continued with their effort to disprove the defense on Tuesday in Broward County court.

Watch the 4 p.m. report

The prosecution called Robert L. Denney, who is among the few in the world who are board certified in both clinical neuropsychology and forensic psychology.

Watch the 9 a.m. report

The prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter started their rebuttal on Sept. 27 in Broward County court.

Watch videos of expert testimony

Scott’s testimony on Sept. 27

Scott’s testimony on Oct. 3

The defense’s lead expert: Dr. Kenneth Lyons

Connor testifies for defense on Sept. 13

Connor testifies for defense on Sept. 12

Interactive graphic


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.