Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz describes shooting victims for giving him ‘nasty look’

The prosecution has rested its rebuttal case in the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, the 24-year-old gunman who murdered 17 students and staff members in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School back on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Closing arguments will now take place on Tuesday with jurors expected to begin deliberations within a matter of days – where they will decide whether to sentence the Parkland shooter to life in prison or to death.

During the state’s rebuttal, prosecutors have sought to show that Cruz is a sociopath who carefully planned the massacre for many months – even years – before carrying out one of the worst school shootings in US history.

Clinical neuropsycholohgist Dr Robert Denney testified on Thursday that Cruz has antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder – but not fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as the defence has claimed.

Jurors were also shown footage of Cruz telling the expert that he was sexually abused when he was nine years old by a boy who lived next door.

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ICYMI: Nikolas Cruz faked extent of mental illness and cognitive issues: ‘He was clearly playing games’

Nikolas Cruz has been faking the extent of his mental illness and cognitive issues and was “clearly playing games” during evaluations with experts, according to a renowned clinical psychologist.

Dr Robert Denney took the witness stand on Tuesday morning in the sentencing trial for the 24-year-old mass murderer, where jurors will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or to death for the murders of 17 people on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Dr Denney, who is one of just seven people in the world with board certifications in both forensic psychology and clinical neuropsychology, visited Cruz in Broward County Jail over two days in March to carry out a series of tests.

He testified that Cruz cheated during the tests and was “grossly exaggerating” symptoms of mental illness, poor memory and other health concerns.

“He is grossly exaggerating severe mental illness,” he said, adding that “[he was] grossly exaggerating severe psychiatric problems as well as semantic concerns, body concerns, cognitive concerns and memory complaints”.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

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The key witnesses jurors won’t hear from

In a move that caught the entire courtroom off guard, Nikolas Cruz’s defence team announced it was resting its case in his sentencing trial after calling less than a third of its expected witnesses.

The 23-year-old mass murderer’s legal team previously said it planned to call around 80 witnesses to the stand as they try to convince jurors to sentence him to life in prison instead of to death.

But, at the start of the 14 September court session, Cruz’s lead attorney Melisa McNeill suddenly revealed that the defence was resting – after calling only around 25 witnesses.

Notable names expected to take to the stand were Cruz’s brother Zachary Cruz and Richard Moore, who took Zachary into his home after the shooting.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

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Parkland shooter claims he was sexually abused by neighbour

Nikolas Cruz claimed that he was sexually abused by a male neighbour when he was nine years old, jurors learned on Thursday.

Under cross-examination, Cruz’s attorney asked Dr Denney about what the mass shooter had told him about the alleged abuse.

Attorney David Wheeler said that, when Cruz was nine, a family moved in next door to his.

The boy in that family began performing “sexual acts” with Cruz when he went over to play Xbox with him, Mr Wheeler said.

“[Cruz] would go over to play videogames and someone in that family would have him do things in order to play on the Xbox,” he said.

Mr Wheeler said that Cruz claimed that one time the boy allegedly took him into a bathroom and “asked him if he wanted to try something new”.

The neighbour then took out his penis, put on a condom and penetrated Cruz, the shooter has claimed.

Dr Denney confirmed that Cruz had told him about the abuse but said he didn’t recall all of the details of his claims.

The defence pointed out that Cruz told Dr Denney that the boy and his mother later came to live with the Cruz family in their home.

Cruz claimed he stole some money from the boy “to get back at him”, the attorney said.

He told the expert that he was hesitant about coming forward over the sexual assault, because he “didn’t want people to think this boy was a sexual predator,” said Mr Wheeler.

However, clinical psychologist Dr Denney seemed to cast doubts on the allegations by saying that Cruz told him “some recollections which he said were recollections”.

“He wasn’t aware of it until after he was arrested,” he said.

He added: “There was some suggestion that might’ve happened. He was only told that it happened after he was arrested… That’s what Mr Cruz told me.”

The alleged abuser was not named in the testimony and his age was not revealed.

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Nikolas Cruz had a horror start to life but does it matter in trial?

It began before he was even born: Nikolas Cruz’s biological mother drank alcohol and abused drugs while he was still in the womb.

At the age of five, his adoptive father suddenly collapsed and died in front of him in the family home. In his teenage years, he was allegedly bullied by his brother and sexually abused by a so-called “trusted peer”. At 19, he became an orphan when his adoptive mother died from pneumonia.

And just three months later, he murdered 17 innocent students and staff in a shooting rampage at his former high school.

“Without any one of those problems, it may never have happened,” Abigail Marsh, professor in the Department of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at Georgetown University, tells The Independent.

“For any given person there is a causal explanation, a link… and, on average, people who become mass shooters or are very violent have had these experiences or risk factors. There’s no one thing that you can say that is the reason but, together, a perfect storm of risk factors can give the means, motive and opportunity.”

These so-called risk factors have all come into focus in recent weeks as Cruz’s team of public defenders tries to convince a jury of his peers that his life should be spared.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp details what jurors have learned about Cruz’s start in life and speaks to a psychologist and criminal defence attorney about what impact this truly had on him committing his crime and whether or not it will make any difference in the eyes of the jury:

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What we’ve learned so far in the trial:

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Cruz traveled to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School armed with an AR-15-style rifle.

There, the then-19-year-old stalked all three floors of the freshman building, shooting and killing 17 students and staff members.

Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Now, the jury will decide whether to hand him the death penalty or to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far in the trial:

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Two men charged with exploiting brother of Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz

The two men who took Nikolas Cruz’s brother under their wing in the wake of the Parkland massacre have been arrested for allegedly exploiting him – just as the mass shooter’s sentencing trial is drawing to a close.

Mike Donovan and Richard Moore, both 45, were arrested at their home in Virginia on Wednesday and charged with exploiting a mentally incapacitated person and obtaining money by false pretences.

They were each released on $50,000 bond later that day.

The couple, who cofounded bond servicing company Nexus, took Zachary Cruz, 22, under their wing after his brother murdered 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Zachary and Cruz, who shared the same biological mother Brenda Woodard and were adopted and raised together by Lynda and Roger Cruz, had been left orphaned in November 2017 when their adoptive mother died.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

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Who is Zachary Cruz?

The brother of Parkland mass shooter Nikolas Cruz is believed to be starring in a reality show about his life and was previously charged with trespassing at the school where his brother murdered 17 innocent people.

Zachary Cruz, 22, was expected to testify for the defence in Cruz’s sentencing trial, where a jury will decide whether to give him to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

But, the defence shocked the courtroom by resting its case on 14 September after calling less than half of its witness list – with Zachary still notably absent from the witness stand.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

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What happens now?

Closing arguments – The prosecution and the defence will give their closing arguments on Tuesday.

Jury gets case – The jury will retire for deliberations as early as Wednesday, after closing arguments. Jurors will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or to death.

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RECAP: What happened in court on Thursday?

The prosecution rested its case on Thursday afternoon after hearing more testimony from clinical psychologist Dr Denney.

  • Dr Denney said his diagnosis is that Nikolas Cruz does not have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) or any neurocognitive disorder. Instead, he said he has antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and shows malingering.
  • Jurors were shown a video from Dr Denney’s interviews with Cruz where Cruz described torturing and killing animals as a child. “I burned, I tortured them, I skinned them alive, I shot them. I would play with their dead bodies or I would eat them,” he said.
  • In another video clip, Cruz told Dr Denney he chose Valentine’s Day for his attack to ruin the day for the community. Dr Denney asked Cruz if there was “anything important that I haven’t asked you?” Cruz paused for a few seconds and replied: “Why I chose Valentine’s Day. He told him it was “because I thought no one would love me. I didn’t like Valentine’s Day and I wanted to ruin it for everyone.” The comments drew a gasp from victims’ family members in the courtroom.
  • Jurors were shown videos of Cruz speaking about the alleged sexual abuse that he claims he suffered at the hands of a neighbour. Cruz told Dr Denney and Dr Scott, an earlier expert witnesses for the prosecution, that he was “sexually molested” by the older son of his mother’s friend. He claimed that the boy, who was around 10 when he was eight, told him he would let him play on his Xbox if they “do things”. However Cruz said he wasn’t certain his memory was correct. “My memory I think it did happen but I don’t want to make him a sexual predator or anything like that,” he said.
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Prosecution rests rebuttal case

The prosecution has rested its rebuttal case in the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz.

The trial is now on recess until Tuesday when the state and the defence will present their closing arguments.

The jury will begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday to decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or to death.