Florida school shooter may have been his own worst witness – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz may have convinced himself to receive the death penalty.

Last week, prosecutors released a video at Cruz’s criminal trial of jailhouse interviews he conducted this year with two of their mental health experts. In candid and sometimes graphic detail, he answered their questions about the shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018 — his planning, his motivations, the shootings.

While there’s no telling what the 12 jurors were thinking, if anyone was wavering on whether to vote for death or life without parole, his statements to Dr. Charles Scott, a forensic psychiatrist, and Robert Denny, a neuropsychologist, didn’t help of his cause.

“All of this made Cruz himself perhaps one of the best witnesses in the state,” said David S. Weinstein, a Miami defense attorney and former prosecutor who oversaw the trial.

A jury will likely decide Cruz’s fate this week. For the 24-year-old to receive the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous on at least one victim. But if all 17 counts come back with at least one vote in favor of life imprisonment, then that will be his sentence. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, and arguments begin Wednesday.

Because Cruise’s defense is that his mother’s heavy drinking during her pregnancy caused his brain damage, prosecutors could have experts examine him for their rebuttal case.

Scott and Denny interviewed him separately for several hours. In each, Cruz sat across the table, handcuffed, a sweater draped over his chest. Sometimes he wanted pen and paper to add diagrams and drawings to his explanations.

“The question is: What will the jury take away from the interviews? A cold-blooded killer who was vengeful and excited about the killings, or a man so hopelessly deranged that he couldn’t be anything but crazy?” said Bob Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University School of Law.

Excerpts from these interviews, some of which are graphic:

HOW LONG HAS CRUZ CONSIDERED A SCHOOL SHOOTING?

“A very long time,” Cruise told Scott, starting when he was 13 or 14, about five years before he did.

“It was just a thought. I was reading books,” Cruz said. “It came and went. It would pop into my mind.

The thoughts came back when he watched videos of violence, especially documentaries about mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech and elsewhere, he said.

HOW DID CRUZ PLAN THE MASSACRE?

“I did my own research,” Cruz told Scott. “I studied mass murderers and how they did it, their plans, what they got and what they used.”

He detailed the lessons he learned: Watch for would-be rescuers coming around corners, keep some distance from your intended victims, attack as quickly as possible — and “the police did nothing.”

“I have a small opportunity to photograph people for maybe 20 minutes,” Cruz said.

HOW DID CRUZ PREPARE?

He told Scott that he had put his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in a bag the night before and stuffed its magazines into a shooting vest. He adjusted the sights on the gun and imagined what the recoil would feel like.

“I didn’t sleep,” Cruz said.

He donned the burgundy polo he received when he was a member of the Stoneman Douglas Reserve Junior Officer Training Program so he could escape by blending in with fleeing students.

“If I had all my (shooting range) gear, they would have called the cops,” Cruz said.

When he left at 2 p.m., he told the Uber driver he was in the school band and the bag was carrying his instrument.

WHAT DID CRUZ DO WHEN HE ARRIVED?

“I passed through the gates. Hopefully there won’t be security, but I was wrong,” Cruise told Scott. “I was looking at the guy and he was looking at me.”

When Cruise visited Stoneman Douglas, guards often checked him for weapons because of his erratic and sometimes violent behavior. When he was kicked out a year before the shooting, a guard predicted that he would eventually come back and shoot people.

Fearing he’s been discovered, Cruz sprints into a three-story building and quickly assembles his weapon. He told the student who ran into him to run because something bad was going to happen.

He then went from floor to floor, firing down hallways and into classrooms, firing a total of 140 shots.

“I thought they were going to scream,” Cruz said of his first three victims. He shot them at point blank range outside the door of a locked classroom. “It was more like they passed out and blood was coming out of their heads.” It was really sickening and sad to see.”

But he continued.

“I think I showed mercy to three girls. I was going to leave, but they made nasty faces and I came back,” Cruz said. “I thought they were going to attack me.

Cruz shot several of his victims a second time after they fell, including his last, a student writhing from a leg wound. He said the boy “gave me a nasty look. A look filled with anger.

“His head blew up like a water balloon,” Cruz said.

WHY DID CRUZ STOP FILMING?

Students and teachers fled the building or locked themselves in classrooms. The third floor corridor was now empty except for the victims.

“I couldn’t find anyone to kill,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it anymore and I didn’t think there was anyone else in the building.”

He dropped his gun and vest on the stairs and ran away. He was caught an hour later – the officer was looking for a young man in a Stoneman Douglas ROTC polo.

CRUZ’S LAST WORD

As Danny wrapped up the final interview, he asked Cruz if there was anything else he should know. Cruz thought for 10 seconds before answering, “Why I chose Valentine’s Day.”

“Because I thought no one would love me,” Cruz explained. “I didn’t like Valentine’s Day and I wanted to ruin it for everyone.”

“You mean the family members of the murdered children?” Danny asked.

“No, for school,” Cruz replied.

The holiday will never be celebrated there again, he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

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