Nikolas Cruz sentencing trial live updates: Witness casts doubt on Parkland gunman's mental distress

FORT LAUDERDALE — Jurors returned to a Fort Lauderdale courtroom Tuesday to hear prosecutors make their final rebuttal arguments in the case of Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland school gunman.

Cruz pleaded guilty in 2021 to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The 12-person jury will recommend whether Cruz, then 19 and now 24, is put to death or sentenced to life in prison. If it recommends death, a move that must be unanimous, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will make the final ruling likely sometime this fall.

In an unexpected turn, his team of public defenders announced Sept. 14 that it would rest its case despite having about 40 remaining witnesses scheduled to testify.

The Palm Beach Post is covering the daily proceedings live. Follow below for updates throughout this week.

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.
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.

Psychologist downplays claim Cruz had fetal alcohol syndrome disorder 

Forensic psychologist Charles Scott testified Tuesday that Nikolas Cruz wasn't as mentally incapacitated as defense attorneys have attempted to show.

Scott met with Cruz over three days and 21 hours in March and diagnosed him with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. He also found evidence that Cruz was "malingering" — where an individual fakes or exaggerates their symptoms.

Scott presented various videos in which Cruz spoke intelligently and at length on subjects that included the components of chess, including the name of specific pieces and their strategic use.

The doctor cast doubt that Cruz suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and that Cruz was capable of complex thoughts and decision-making.

In one video shown in court, Cruz is asked about the swastikas he placed on his gun magazine and one of the boots he wore used during the shooting.

Cruz claimed the swastika was a "symbol of peace" used by Native Americans and that he placed the image on his boot to represent "mostly peace."

Two swastikas on the gun magazine he used in the shootings were carved into the rifle by a friend while the two were "chilling out."

"Anything about swastikas or when I said nasty remarks about race … it was all for attention,” he said.

Cruz also told Scott that he was mean to animals, retelling how he skinned lizards alive or burned them to death with a lighter.

"I broke a lizard's back with a rock," Cruz said on video.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer halted Scott's testimony for the rest of the week before prosecutor Michael Satz finished his questioning.

The courthouse will be closed Wednesday and Thursday because of Hurricane Ian. Because Friday was supposed to be only a half day of testimony, Scherer decided to cancel and resume the trial Monday.

Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gloria Crespo testifies about the weapon used by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 shootings. This during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sgt. Crespo took the photograph (for evidence purposes) of the gun used by Cruz after the shootings. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.
Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gloria Crespo testifies about the weapon used by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 shootings. This during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sgt. Crespo took the photograph (for evidence purposes) of the gun used by Cruz after the shootings. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

Cruz asks family to forgive him 'for what I have done' in letter found in cell

A Broward County Jail deputy testified Tuesday afternoon he found around 30 pages of hate-filled writings and drawings in Nikolas Cruz's cell on May 8.

Jean Marque-Puche read several of the pages to the jury, including the expletives and threats of violence used by Cruz.

In one of the drawings, Cruz appears to recreate the massacre. On one page, a stick figure shoots another labeled as "teacher," and students seated at desks are also shot.

The deputy testified that he found "666" scrawled onto a wall with what Cruz said was his own blood.

Cruz seems to claim in one of the writings that he was driven into committing the shootings by an individual who “sexually humiliated me on f****** Instagram” and claims that they are the “main f****** reason why I shot up Stoneman Douglas”.

During cross-examination, the deputy was asked to read a letter written by Cruz to his family in which he asks to be forgiven "for what I have done" and also says he would like "to die a slow and painful death."

Cruz asked in the letter that he be buried with a woman whose name was not said in court.

Jury shown swastikas drawn by Cruz on rifle magazine, boots

Prosecutors began their rebuttal case Tuesday morning by showing the jury swastikas that Nikolas Cruz etched into a 30-round rifle magazine he used during the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The jury also saw a swastika marking on the right boot worn by Cruz on the day of the shootings.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled against a defense motion on Sept. 1 that the markings of the hate symbol should not be shown because they were excessively prejudicial. Defense attorneys said that Cruz killed without regard to hate or religion.

The prosecution's rebuttal began with Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gloria Crespo, who displayed the rifle that Cruz left behind in a stairwell and that had swastikas on either side of the magazine.

BSO Detective Clint Williams was the next witness, presenting the photo of a small swastika penned into Cruz's boot.

Defense attorneys did not cross examine either Crespo or Williams.

Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gloria Crespo, not shown, testifies about the weapon, shown on a courtroom monitor, used by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 shootings that has a swastika etched on the gun's magazine. This during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sgt. Crespo took the photograph (for evidence purposes) of the gun used by Cruz after the shootings. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.
Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gloria Crespo, not shown, testifies about the weapon, shown on a courtroom monitor, used by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 shootings that has a swastika etched on the gun's magazine. This during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sgt. Crespo took the photograph (for evidence purposes) of the gun used by Cruz after the shootings. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

The morning's third witness was BSO Detective Nicholas Masters, who read aloud in the courtroom a series of racist, misogynistic and hate-filled social media postings in which Cruz talked about murdering Blacks and women and boasting of killing cats.

Under cross-examination, Masters admitted he found evidence of Google searches by Cruz asking  "why am I isolated?" and "mental disorders," indicating the confessed killer was looking for help.

Cruz turned 24 on Saturday.

Jorge Milian is a journalist covering Boynton Beach and Lake Worth Beach at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at jmilian@pbpost.com and follow him on Twitter at Caneswatch. Help support our work, subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Parkland shooter trial: Psychologist suggests Cruz faked mental symptoms