(As originally published with photos and sound from testimony, Mon, October 3rd 2022, 9:00 AM EDT)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WPEC) — Anti-social personality disorder. Not fetal alcohol syndrome.
That’s what a forensic psychiatrist testified was driving Nikolas Cruz when he devised a plan to massacre 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
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Monday, Dr. Charles Scott returned to the witness stand in Cruz’s sentencing trial.
Last Tuesday, before the court took time off due to Hurricane Ian, the prosecution started its rebuttal by questioning whether Cruz’s birth mother drank as heavily during pregnancy as some witnesses portrayed.
“He did have early developmental delays,” Scott testified Monday. He detailed Cruz’s history in school, including repeating kindergarten, and on medication.
“Third grade did not go particularly well for him,” Scott said.
He testified about Cruz’s behavior getting worse in sixth grade but said there’s more to see beyond Cruz acting out.
“He did have a history of impulsive behavior, and that was noted throughout the junior high records, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t also plan,” Scott said. “They are not in any way mutually exclusive.”
Scott, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis, said Cruz “could accomplish and make academic gains” with the right structure, “So he had the brain power, if you will, he had the executive ability, executive functioning and the structure may have shown that he was capable.”
He gave an example from eighth grade, when an assistant principal would enter one of Cruz’s classrooms.
“His name was Mr. Lindsey and he would come in sometimes for support and to observe, and when Mr. Lindsey would come into the room, Nikolas would have no behavioral difficulties, even if around the time before and after he might, indicating he might he had the ability to control at that time and he didn’t,” Scott explained.
He put the blame for Cruz’s behavior on issues besides his mother drinking fortified wine and malt liquor during pregnancy.
“In my opinion, those are better accounted for by antisocial personality disorder and to some degree borderline personality disorder,” Scott said. “His trajectory of improving academic and executive function is in contrast to what’s been written and described individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome.”
Last week, Scott testified that while defense experts and witnesses have said Cruz’s birth mother, Brenda Woodard, drank during pregnancy, he said there is scant evidence supporting that in her medical records.
Not only do those records show she denied drinking after five weeks of pregnancy, there is nothing in Woodard’s doctor examinations or Cruz’s infant medical records that indicate to him she was lying.
The records “raised questions for me what was the reality of the alcohol (abuse),” Scott said. Woodard died last year.
Monday, Scott testified Cruz was able to plan the school massacre.
“There’s a range of comments that Mr. Cruz makes that’s very relevant to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and his planning related to that,” he said, adding “even prior to his [adoptive] mother passing away.”
Lead prosecutor Mike Satz tried to confirm Cruz was well enough to deliberately carry out the murders.
“Is that an impulsive act or is that likely a more planned act, or more premeditated act?” he asked.
Last week, the prosecution also started to show Cruz’s sometimes racist and misogynistic behavior online, his online searches for child pornography and the violent writings and drawings found in his jail cell last spring.
Prosecutors used Scott’s testimony to show the jury swastikas drawn on Cruz’s gun magazine and his boots, his online racism and misogyny and his online searches for child pornography.
They say those details support Scott’s diagnosis that Cruz’s murder of 14 students and three staff members at the high school was driven by antisocial personality disorder — commonly known as being a sociopath. Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last October to the Feb. 14, 2018, murders — the trial is only to decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.
Monday, Scott testified about “a lot of sexualized drawings,” “interest in young girls,” and Cruz possibly having “other deviant interests.”
The witness quoted Cruz as saying “I hate animals and humans,” and determined his posts on social media “strongly relate to the murders. … He had great interest months in advance.”
The prosecution played videos of Scott talking to Cruz and Cruz discussing how he first became interested in mass shootings.
“I studied mass murderers and how they did it,” Cruz admitted in the video, pointing to the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado.
“That would be much more characteristic of anti-social personality disorder,” Scott said about Cruz’s years of studying murderers and their weapons.
“In my opinion, this evidence is extremely strong that this was planned, premeditated, thought out,” Scott testified.
He said it wasn’t sudden. “A lot of planning and thought behind this.”
The prosecution also played video in which Cruz explained in detail to Scott how he was prepared for the massacre, from having the gun prepared to wearing the right clothes, “to disguise myself so I don’t draw attention.”
Then, it played long graphic excerpts from the killer’s cellphone video and Scott testified anti-social personality disorder, rather than fetal alcohol syndrome, was the cause.
“He knows the likely emotional reaction.. The impact that’s going to have on others,” Scott said. “The overall presentation of him: He’s calm. He’s organized. He’s speaking slowly. He’s saying what he’s going to do, how he’s going to do it. He’s saying where he’s going to do it. He’s saying what year he’s going to do it. And he’s saying even how he’s going to get there. He’s going to take an Uber.”
Last week, Scott testified that Cruz is capable of controlling his behavior but chooses not to as he has no regard for others, the leading trait of antisocial personality disorder. He also showed video clips from his three days of interviews with Cruz from last March. While defense experts said Cruz has a slightly below average IQ, Cruz engaged Scott in a high-level discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that had begun just days earlier. Cruz discussed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goals and history with clarity.
Before Scott took the stand, prosecutors used Broward County sheriff’s investigators and a jail guard to introduce the swastikas that were drawn on the magazine found in Cruz’s AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and his use of anti-Black and anti-woman slurs online. Five of Cruz’s 12 jurors are women and seven identify as racial minorities. For Cruz to get a death sentence, a unanimous vote is required.
The defense went over adoption, medical and school records when cross examining Scott, seemingly trying to get him to acknowledge Cruz’s troubles, including his low test scores, trouble with his job at Dollar Tree, taking an Uber Pool to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and losing his phone during massacre.
They also discussed Cruz’s disorders and their relationships to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Then, former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Kyle Horrigan was called. He discussed seeing Cruz well before the massacre.
Horrigan testified Cruz “had a backpack that had a swastika written on it and then the F-word, you, and the N-word,” and he took a picture of it.
Finally, clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Robert Denney — one of seven people in the world to have board certifications in both forensic psychology and clinical neuropsychology — discussed his credentials, his job, and the types of testing administered to patients before the court’s session ended for the day.
Last week, Det. Nick Masters, an online investigator, said Cruz searched for how to buy a Nazi flag, for information on Adolf Hitler’s birthday and how to get a swastika tattoo. Cruz wrote “the Nazi party will rise again.” He made searches and comments using a racial slur directed against Black people. He wrote that he punched his widowed mother and called her a slur used against women. He wrote that “women are less important than a dog.”
Masters showed several graphic searches Cruz made for child pornography. He also made comments extolling animal abuse, saying he had killed 12 cats and wrote, “I am glad when animals die. It makes me happy.”
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer only allowed prosecutors to present a fraction of the online searches and comments Cruz made, saying more would be excessively prejudicial. There is no contention that Cruz specifically targeted girls or minorities. Eight of his victims were girls and four were racial minorities.
During cross-examination, Cruz attorney Nawal Bashimam asked Masters about other searches Cruz made such as how to get a girlfriend, how to deal with loneliness, how to find mental health treatment and “How do I help myself with these bad feelings?” Masters said he had seen some of those.
Prosecutors also showed writings and drawings jail guard Jean Joel Marque-Pucheu found in Cruz’s cell in May where Cruz fantasized both about killing a Stoneman Douglas rival and future school massacres.
They showed writings where Cruz praised Satan and photos of a drawing he made in his cell with his own blood of a pentagram and the number 666, which some believe is the sign of the Anti-Christ.
During their case, Cruz’s attorneys tried to show how his late birth mother’s alcohol abuse during pregnancy put Cruz onto a lifelong path of erratic, bizarre and often violent behavior that culminated in the shootings. They also tried to show that his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, became overwhelmed after her husband died when Cruz was 5. She died less than three months before the shootings.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.