FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors and lawyers for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz battled Wednesday over whether jurors should learn about the swastikas engraved in his gun’s magazine, his racist, homophobic and threatening online posts, his computer searches for child pornography and his cruelty to animals.
Prosecutors argued that the swastikas, racism, postings, computer searches and animal cruelty formed the basis of their psychologists’ diagnosis that Cruz, 23, suffers from various behavioral disorders but is not mentally ill and understands his behavior. Their psychologists also say the reports help show that he was not intellectually disabled when he killed 14 students and three employees at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Marcus told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that the prosecution only intends to use the evidence to refute the defense’s expected argument that Cruz suffers from mental illness and an intellectual disability.
The disputed evidence provides “a complete picture” of Cruz’s personality and interests, he said.
“It’s definitely not a pretty picture. It’s a very ugly picture,” Marcus said.
Tamara Curtis, one of Cruz’s public defenders, told Scherer she will submit her final argument in writing. In previous court files and statements, the defense has argued that the prosecution’s use of such evidence would only stir the jurors’ emotions during the trial, which is set to begin July 18. They have said the swastikas, messages and searches are irrelevant to what aggravating factors the prosecution must prove, such as the multiple deaths, Cruz’s cruelty to his victims and his planning.
Scherer said she will decide later whether the evidence can be presented. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 first-degree murders in October. The jury that was recently elected will decide during a nearly three-month trial whether he will be executed or given a life sentence without parole. For Cruz to receive the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous.
Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on what Cruz told psychologists who were examining him after the shooting most recently in March, along with his computer messages and searches. Cruz spent much of the hearing with his head scribbling down on paper, occasionally looking up to speak to one of his lawyers.
According to the transcripts read, Cruz told psychologists in prison investigations that a friend carved the swastikas on some weapon magazines used during the attack, but he carved the Nazi symbol on the boots he was wearing. The friend was not involved in the attack or its planning.
Cruz also drew a swastika on a backpack he used when he was a student at Stoneman Douglas before his 2017 expulsion to “get negative attention or positive attention, either way,” he said. He also wrote “666” on that backpack, a number some Christians associate with the antichrist, and a racist term for black people.
“I thought people would come up to me and ask me why I had so many weird symbols on my backpack and ask me if I needed help,” he told a psychologist. “I would have been honest and told them I did, but nobody ever did it.” He also said he hoped someone would hit him over the backpack, but that never happened.
Prosecutor psychologist Michael Brannon testified that he believes Cruz was faking it when he told other psychologists after the shooting that a male voice called “Swas,” short for swastika, told him to commit violence and that he had demons. He said Cruz only mentioned Swas. and the demons for some examiners and was not consistent in his descriptions.
Prosecutors had also read pages of online posts and searches Cruz made before the shooting. There were dozens of searches for pornography, including for young children.
He rejoiced at the 2016 murder 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, using an anti-gay slur to describe the victims. He posted his hatred of racial minorities, Christians, political liberals, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and animals, especially alligators. Cruz also posted photos of mutilated animals. He had a history of animal cruelty, but it is not clear whether these were his own photos or those of others.
Cruz also sought how long it takes police to respond to mass shootings. The school’s deputy arrived at the building two minutes after the first shots were fired, but never went inside to confront him. The first off-campus officers stormed the building within 11 minutes of Cruz opening fire, about four minutes after he fled. He was arrested about an hour later while walking through a neighborhood.
Cruz also threatened mass killings online, including a targeted attack on black people. There is no indication that Cruz was targeted by anyone because of their race, politics or sexual orientation in the Stoneman Douglas shooting.