FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors in the capital punishment trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz opened their rebuttal Tuesday by questioning whether his birth mother drank as much during her pregnancy as some witnesses suggest.
They also showed his sometimes racist and misogynistic behavior online before he killed 17 people four years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, his Internet searches for child pornography and violent writings and drawings found in his prison cell last spring.
Prosecution expert Dr. Charles Scott, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis, testified that while defense experts and witnesses said Cruz’s birth mother, Brenda Woodard, drank fortified wine and malt liquor during her pregnancy, he said there was little evidence to support that in her medical records.
Not only do these records show that she denied consuming alcohol after five weeks of pregnancy, there is nothing in Woodard’s doctor’s examinations or the Cruz babies’ medical records to indicate that she lied.
The records “made me question what real alcohol abuse was,” Scott said. Woodard died last year.
Prosecutors used Scott’s testimony to show jurors a swastika drawn on a magazine with Cruz’s gun and his boots, his online racism and misogyny, and his online search for child pornography.
They say the details support Scott’s diagnosis that Cruz’s killing of 14 students and three high school staff members was driven by an antisocial personality disorder — commonly known as a sociopath. Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last October to the Feb. 14, 2018, murders — the court has only to decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life without parole.
Scott testified that Cruz is able to control his behavior but is unwilling to because he has a lack of respect for others, which is a hallmark of antisocial personality disorder. He also showed tapes of three days of interviews with Cruz last March. While defense experts said Cruz’s IQ is slightly below average, Cruz engaged Scott in a high-level discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began a few days ago. Cruz clearly discussed the goals and history of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Before Scott took the stand, prosecutors asked Broward County sheriff’s investigators and a jail guard to introduce the swastika painted on the magazine found in Cruz’s semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle and his use of online slurs against blacks and women. Five of Cruz’s 12 jurors are women and seven are racial minorities. Cruz needs a unanimous vote to be sentenced to death.
Detective Nick Masters, an online researcher, said Cruise searched for how to buy a Nazi flag, information about Adolf Hitler’s birthday and how to get a swastika tattoo. Cruz wrote: “The Nazi Party will rise again.” He conducted searches and comments using a racial slur aimed at black people. He wrote that he beat his widowed mother and called her a slur against women. He wrote that “women are less important than dogs.”
Masters showed several graphic searches done by Cruise for child pornography. He also made comments praising animal cruelty, saying he had killed 12 cats and wrote: “I’m happy when animals die. It makes me happy.”
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed prosecutors to introduce only a portion of Cruz’s Internet searches and comments, saying more would be unduly prejudicial. There is no dispute that Cruz specifically targeted girls or minorities. Eight of his victims were girls, and four were from racial minorities.
On cross-examination, Cruise’s attorney Nawal Bashimam asked Masters about Cruise’s other quests, such as how to find 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 has seen some of them.
Prosecutors also revealed tapes and drawings prison guard Jean-Joel Marche-Puche found in Cruz’s cell in May in which Cruz fantasized about both killing rival Stoneman Douglas and future school shootings.
They showed recordings of Cruz praising Satan and pictures of a drawn pentagram and the number 666, which some believe is the sign of the Antichrist, with his own blood.
During the trial, Cruz’s attorneys tried to show how his late mother’s alcohol abuse during pregnancy set Cruz up for a lifetime of erratic, strange and often violent behavior that culminated in the shooting. They also tried to show that his adoptive mother, Linda Cruz, was distraught after her husband died when Cruz was 5 years old. She died less than three months before the shootings.
With Hurricane Ian approaching Florida, which is expected to bring heavy rains to Fort Lauderdale over the next two days, the trial will resume on Monday, with Scott still on the witness stand.