Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 26° Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

The voice of the Parkland gunman has been silent in front of the jury. Until the prosecution’s rebuttal

Oct. 3, 2022 Updated Mon., Oct. 3, 2022 at 12:23 p.m.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in a taped interview with forensic psychologist Dr. Charles Scott that was shown while Dr. Scott testified during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Dr. Scott was hired by the prosecution as an expert witness to evaluate Cruz and diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.   (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in a taped interview with forensic psychologist Dr. Charles Scott that was shown while Dr. Scott testified during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Dr. Scott was hired by the prosecution as an expert witness to evaluate Cruz and diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.  (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
By Rafael Olmeda South Florida Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There’s something very different about the Parkland gunman in videos that were shown most recently to the jury deciding his fate.

Until the prosecution began presenting its rebuttal case on Sept. 27, jurors had heard the voice of confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz only once, in three brief video clips he recorded as he was planning the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In the earlier videos, Cruz spoke slowly, deliberately, almost theatrically, fully aware the videos would later be seen by a wide audience. But in the new videos, Cruz is disarmed, literally and figuratively — he speaks candidly, off the cuff, about issues as varied as chess, military entrance exams, rifles and the JROTC program, and the war between Russia and Ukraine. He talks about books he’s read and games he’s played.

He sounds educated and astute. Prosecutors hope the jury takes note, because it is a far cry from the defense portrayal of Cruz as the victim of a lifelong struggle with mental illness caused by, among other things, his mother’s abuse of drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant with him.

According to defense experts, Cruz struggled to retain the things he learned in school and lacked the ability to construct long-term plans. Forensic psychologist Charles Scott, whose testimony is scheduled to resume Monday, said his interviews with the defendant showed no such difficulty.

His knowledge of the life of Russian President Vladimir Putin was detailed. “His father served in World War II. He had a grandfather who served in World War I. … His mother lived in St. Petersburg. … He has two daughters.”

The details, culled from a book Cruz read in jail, were impressive for any student and reflected an academic aptitude that ran counter to the testimony of defense experts, said Scott. Cruz also showed a detailed understanding of the game of chess, outlining what each piece on the board could and could not do, though he said he wasn’t very good at the game.

He was never at a loss to answer questions from Scott, whether it was about the difference between a semi-automatic weapon and an automatic one or the leadership skills he learned in the JROTC program at Stoneman Douglas.

Defense experts said Cruz struggled to retain the things he learned in school and lacked the ability to construct long-term plans. Scott said his interviews with the defendant showed no such difficulty.

Scott’s testimony so far has fallen in line with what experts say is required of a rebuttal witness — challenge the mitigating factors raised by the defense by showing either that they are wrong or that they are not as severe as portrayed.

In trying to limit the impact of the prosecution’s rebuttal, lead defense lawyer Melisa McNeill told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that her experts never said Cruz was incapable of understanding complex issues or forming long-term plans, but that his ability to do so was “impaired.”

In allowing Scott to testify, Scherer said she is leaving that analysis to the jury.

Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 murders and 17 attempted murders he committed in a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas on Feb. 14, 2018. The current trial is to determine his punishment. The 12-member jury must be unanimous in its decision to recommend a death sentence. It would only take one juror’s opposition to take the death penalty off the table and condemn Cruz to a sentence of life in prison.

Closing arguments, for now, are scheduled to take place Oct. 10.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.