Editor’s note: Prosecutors seeking the death penalty against confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are tasked with convincing a jury to vote for execution over a life sentence. The defense team is trying to persuade the jury that mercy in the form of a life sentence is warranted. This article, which includes some of the images and text created by Cruz as he awaits his sentence, contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz still fantasizes about murdering people he hates. He smeared the devil’s “666″ on his cell wall recently, in his own blood, and drew disturbing sketches using a red Atomic FireBall candy. He’s glad he can wear a mask in court, he said, so the jurors can’t see him smile or laugh.
This is the person a team of defense lawyers — paid for by the public — must try to generate sympathy for, starting Monday, now that the prosecution has rested its case. Cruz pled guilty to gunning down 17 people and injuring 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018, so the trial is solely for sentencing — either life in prison, or the death penalty.
Creating a sympathetic storyline for jurors will require piecing together fragments. Buried in thousands of pages of depositions and court filings are shreds of remorse, little slivers of humanity, and hints that perhaps some of Cruz’s troubles were beyond his control — flickers the defense team will try to build a case from.
Cruz has nightmares about the bodies he left strewn inside the 1200 Building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He’s sometimes “sad” when he thinks about it. He wants to set up an anti-bullying club, and a “homicide hotline” for troubled people. He said Meadow Pollock, whom he killed, was “a good person” he knew. He dreaded facing the families in court, and felt like “the most hated man in America” — especially when a potential juror flipped him off, and others burst into tears just seeing him. His biological mother was reportedly an alcoholic who may have exposed him to toxins in the womb. He was allegedly sexually assaulted by a family friend when he was an adolescent. His school record is every parent’s nightmare, and all of the help he got failed.
But can any tale of woe overcome the jurors’ memories of walking through the crime scene, of hearing, on maximum volume, audio of school girls wailing and gunfire blasting, of witnessing the wreckage of families’ lives that made even Cruz’s own attorney cry?
The heaps of documentation about Cruz’s life at best show a young man who, despite endless social and educational services — and pharmaceuticals — still can’t shed his fixation with things vile and violent.
In recorded phone calls this year to a friend, he alternates between looking forward to prison because they serve more vegetables than the jail does, and voicing acceptance that he might be executed.
His wish, he said, is to play video games with his younger brother Zachary before he’s executed, and eat puffer fish for his final meal. He wants to be buried with a woman.
When a friend suggested society failed him, Cruz didn’t agree.
“Well to be honest with you,” he said a few months ago in a taped conversation, “I blame myself more than anyone else.”
In another call, “Nikolas Cruz states that if he was on the jury, he would give him the death sentence.’’
If just one juror on the panel of 12 is convinced his life should be spared, it will be.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer will deliver legal instructions to jurors before they deliberate, but it comes down to gut feelings, said Stephen Bright, a Yale Law School lecturer and capital case expert.
“We expect courts to make rational decisions, but death penalty cases tend to be very emotional,” he said. “They’re not as much about the mind sometimes as they are about the heart.”
Jurors have already seen the ugly darkness of the Parkland shooter. Though the defense will attempt to tie sympathetic threads, prosecutors will have the final word, swooping back in with rebuttal that’s sure to include more of Cruz’s demons.
And his violence hasn’t ended. Even with all eyes on him as he approaches trial, Cruz drew murderous sketches in his cell several months ago, threatening to kill a schoolyard enemy and wishing for “another mass shooting.”
In jailhouse drawings the South Florida Sun Sentinel obtained under state records law, Cruz shows no remorse for his 2018 massacre.
A deputy doing a routine check of his cell in May saw a drawing in red. Knowing inmates can’t have colored pencils, the deputy asked how he did it. Cruz said he’d wetted an Atomic FireBall candy from the canteen, where he has ample funds from donors around the country.
The drawings were in a stack of more than 30 pages, all disturbing.
Among them was a furious screed to the former classmate at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The two had a fistfight over a girl. The teen then allegedly posted something on Instagram that sexually humiliated Cruz.
“I want you to f—ing know I will find a way to f—ing kill you. I even hire people to do the f—ing job,” the ranting tirade read. He said the student’s slight was “the main f—ing reason why I shot up stoneman douglas. the blood is not only on my hands but yours as well.”
In the pile were proclamations that “lusifer” is his father, and a statement that “life is not better unless you kill everyone and then do the same to yourself, because life will be tough to you if you don’t, they will humiliate you and torture you till you break.”
One drawing shows an overhead scene of the Parkland school shooting, with Cruz mocking those who called his assault rifle a “machine gun.” His adoration for guns spills out all over the pages, including explicit drawings of his fantasized shooting murder of the former classmate, and a drawing of the “next school shooter” spraying bullets at kids in desks.
“I wish to destroy your lives because I been a outcast from your f—ing society,” another page reads.
The images were confiscated by the jail, and he was placed on suicide watch for a week, records say.
The deputy also photographed a pentagram and “666″ scrawled on his cell wall in blood.
His requests for reading material reflect the dichotomy — Cruz the simpleton, and Cruz the killer. Records show he asked for a dictionary, and books about health and exercise, and books about Pokemon, a Japanese animation.
And then on May 16: “I would like a satanic bible please? Devil worshipping book. Unholy bible.”
He was told the jail didn’t have those. A couple weeks later, he tried again.
“am I able to get a bible on lusifer?” The answer: “we do not have that bible.”
Again on June 19, two months ago: “can i get a book on demonology?”
In the courtroom, the jury sees the 23-year-old Cruz hunched over, avoiding eye contact, and looking small in a chair that’s sunk visibly lower than the chairs of the lawyers around him.
Nervous about the trial, Cruz, a person who throughout his life disrupted classrooms and couldn’t sit through a one-hour television show, has sat docilely for hours, day after day, emotionless, scribbling with his left hand on a notepad.
In his cell, he has mocked the proceedings. He told a friend in a phone call during jury selection that he “was able to see one juror’s breasts through her shirt.”
He drew pictures of the courtroom, attaching childish or mean nicknames to lawyers and the judge. And twice in recent months he told a family friend over the phone that he was glad he could wear a mask so jurors couldn’t see him smile or laugh. Some days in court, he is the only one at his table wearing one.
He has complained in phone call after phone call with friends Richard Moore and Trish Devaney Westerlind about disliking court, worrying about facing the victims’ families, resolving not to watch any of the video aired, and feeling like “the most hated man in America.”
His jail calls are all recorded, and summaries of the calls are written by Broward Sheriff’s Office Det. John Curcio. They were released to the Sun Sentinel under public records law.
Moore plays songs on the radio for him, and tries to make him laugh. Moore and his spouse, Mike Donovan, took in Zachary Cruz shortly after the shooting. They were strangers to the Cruz family then. Now, Moore puts money in Nikolas Cruz’s commissary account and takes his frequent calls. Many days, he sits in court. On Thursday, he took flowers to the graves of Lynda and Roger Cruz, the adoptive parents.
“I have a concern when we are taking those who are not fully mentally developed like Nik and executing them,” he told the Sun Sentinel on Thursday. “Nik is that awkward kid in school that didn’t fit in and we all feel bad about years later.”
Cruz talks to Moore about animals, Pokemon, the war in Ukraine, bestiality, and a porn film called 2 Girls, 1 Cup, records show. He talks about wanting to have a dog in prison, and to get married and have kids with a female penpal in England he loves. He looks forward to prison where he can exercise and eat healthier than in the jail.
He comments repeatedly in his calls to Moore and Westerlind about the death penalty.
“I think I deserve it,” he told Westerlind recently, “I’m not going to lie.”
Cruz’s lawyers have spent years now working on his defense, and have been publicly mum about it. But in recent days and weeks, planks of the defense have collapsed one by one.
The defense team recently abandoned a “brain mapping” analysis — quantitative electroencephalogram — that was based on images of Cruz’s brain. And this week in court, the killer’s lawyers revealed they’re dropping even more of the disability arguments. Though Cruz was thought by some people, including his mother, to have autism, the defense won’t make that assertion.
“It’s not our position that Nikolas has autism spectrum disorder,” defense attorney Casey Secor said in court Thursday.
Another analysis the defense worked on, based on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales for evaluating intellectual and developmental disorders, looked at Cruz’s behavior as a child, using testimony from a former family friend, Finai Browd. But the analysis by Dr. Natalie Novick Brown was attacked in court filings by the prosecution.
“We are no longer using those,” Secor announced in court Thursday, surprising prosecutors.
Was it alcohol that damaged the shooter? The defense still plans to argue that Cruz’s biological mother, the late Brenda Woodard, drank alcohol while she was pregnant with him, and that he was born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Woodard’s daughter, Cruz’s half-sister Danielle Woodard, is being transported from jail in Miami-Dade County to Broward County to testify for him. She and Westerlind, a longtime friend of his adoptive mother Lynda Cruz, likely will be asked about Woodard’s drinking and drug use.
In hearings without the jury present, Secor said Thursday that the team would argue that abnormal behaviors that some took for autism were instead evidence of the alcohol exposure. Jurors might be swayed to save Cruz’s life, he said, if they believe he has a neurodevelopmental disorder.
“A person could say, ‘Well, someone who commits 17 murders and does not have a disorder, I’m probably gonna give them the death penalty, but if I think they have a developmental disorder, I might lean towards life without parole,’” Secor said, in a court debate over witness testimony.
Prosecutor Jeff Marcus said the team will counter that Cruz has no developmental disorder, but rather anti-social personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Westerlind has said that Cruz was sexually assaulted as a boy, by the teen son of a family friend. That might also be aired in court.
Jurors will hear about Cruz’s tortured school history. At age 5, for example, he obsessed with acting like a predatory animal, growling, crawling from chair to chair, “snarling like an animal.” No school could control Cruz. He was violent, crude and disruptive.
He attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for a short period, but was removed.
Zachary Cruz, the shooter’s younger brother, told the Sun Sentinel he hopes someone on the jury has sympathy for his “tortured outcast” brother. He said many people — social workers, counselors, psychologists, and bureaucrats — failed him.
“There is no excuse for what my brother did,” he said in a written statement. “His only hope is that he be shown incredible mercy. My heart aches for the families of those lost in Parkland. There is no punishment severe enough for those crimes. All my brother can hope for is mercy.”
Brittany Wallman can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4541. Follow her on Twitter @BrittanyWallman
Source by www.chicagotribune.com