Terry Spencer
I cover Florida, primarily Broward and Palm Beach counties.
terryspentspencer@ap.org

School shooter chose Valentine’s Day to ruin it forever

October 6, 2022 GMT
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz calmly told a psychologist why he picked Valentine’s Day to massacre 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago: Because no one loved him, he wanted to ruin the holiday forever for anyone associated with the school.

Prosecutors concluded their rebuttal case Thursday after playing that video clip from jailhouse interviews Cruz did with their psychologist hoping it bolsters their contention that he wasn’t driven to kill by a mental disorder he couldn’t control, but planned his attack and chose to carry it out.

They are trying to convince jurors they should sentence Cruz, 24, to death for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at the suburban Fort Lauderdale school. He pleaded guilty a year ago. For the former Stoneman Douglas student to receive a death sentence, the seven-man, five-woman jury must be unanimous. Otherwise, his sentence will be life without parole.

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Cruz’s attorneys have contended throughout the trial that his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, causing brain dysfunctions that led to lifelong episodes of bizarre, erratic and sometimes violent conduct that culminated with the shootings. After several attempts that were blocked by Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, they were also able to tell jurors Thursday that Cruz believes he was raped and sexually molested numerous times by a neighbor when he was 9.

Robert Denney, a Missouri neuropsychologist testifying for the prosecution, interviewed and tested Cruz last March over three days — under Florida law, if defense attorneys argue their client has a mental deficiency, prosecutors get to conduct their own examination.

Denney testified earlier that he believes Cruz purposely did poorly on tests in an attempt to mimic severe brain dysfunction. He reiterated his belief Thursday that Cruz does not have fetal alcohol issues, but has antisocial personality disorder — in lay terms, he’s a sociopath.

He said Cruz understands reality and can control his actions when it suits him. He said that differentiates antisocial personality disorder from schizophrenia or delusions, where the person acts on false thoughts they can’t control.

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Assistant prosecutor Jeff Marcus played two videos from Denney’s interviews with Cruz. In the first, Cruz describes his torture of animals such as toads and lizards as a child, an issue that has been raised several times.

“I burned, I tortured them, I skinned them alive, I shot them,” Cruz said without emotion. “I would play with their dead bodies or I would eat them.”

In the second video, Denney asks Cruz as he is finishing his second and final day of interviews is there “anything important that I haven’t asked you?”

Cruz thought for about 10 seconds and then responded, “Why I chose Valentine’s Day.” He then explained.

“Because I thought no one would love me,” Cruz said. “I didn’t like Valentine’s Day and I wanted to ruin it for everyone.” A soft gasp went up from victim’s parents and relatives sitting in the courtroom.

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“Do you mean for the family members of the kids that were killed?” Denney asked.

“No, for the school,” Cruz replied. The holiday will never be celebrated there again, he said.

Marcus then read off the names of the 17 victims and after each asked Denney if fetal alcohol syndrome could explain why Cruz murdered that person. No, Denney replied 17 times.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Casey Secor, Denney conceded Cruz said in their interviews he has memories of being molested and raped by a neighbor who was three years older. It is an issue the defense has wanted to present several times, but Judge Scherer ruled that the only three people who can corroborate the accusation aren’t available. Cruz’s adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died months before the shootings and the alleged rapist and his mother no longer live in the United States and can’t be forced to appear as witnesses.

In video clips played for the jury, Cruz told Denney and another expert his mom tried to convince him the molestation never happened, but he is 75% to 80% certain it did. He said the older boy would tell him he could play his video games if he let him molest him.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. Deliberations would begin on Wednesday.