School shooter’s use of swastikas is focus of court fight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors and attorneys for Florida school shooting gunman Nikolas Cruz discussed Wednesday whether jurors in his upcoming penalty trial should be aware of the swastikas carved into the his gun charger, his racist, homophobic and threatening online postings, his computer searches for child pornography and his cruelty to animals.

Prosecutors argued that swastikas, racism, postings, computer searches and animal cruelty help form the basis of their psychologists’ diagnosis that Cruz, 23, suffers from multiple behavioral control disorders, but not he has a mental illness and understands his behavior. Her psychologists also say the posts help prove she was not intellectually disabled when she murdered. 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Marcus told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that the prosecution only plans to use the evidence to refute the defense’s expected argument that Cruz is mentally ill and intellectually disabled.

The disputed evidence presents “a complete picture” of Cruz’s personality and interests, he said.

“It’s certainly not a pretty picture. It’s a very ugly picture,” Marcus said.

Tamara Curtis, one of Cruz’s public defenders, told Scherer that she will present her closing argument in writing. In previous court filings and statements, the defense has claimed that the prosecution’s use of such evidence would only inflame the emotions of jurors during the trial, which is scheduled to begin on July 18. They have said that the swastikas, posts and searches have no relevance to showing the aggravating circumstances that the prosecution must prove, such as the multiple deaths, Cruz’s cruelty to his victims and his planning.

Scherer said he will decide later if the evidence can be presented. Cruz pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder. The newly elected jury during a process of almost three months it will be decided if he is executed or receives a life sentence without parole. For Cruz to get the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on what Cruz told psychologists who examined him after the shootings, most recently in March, along with his postings and computer searches. Cruz spent much of the hearing with her head down writing on a piece of paper, glancing up from time to time to speak to one of his attorneys.

According to transcripts that were read, Cruz told psychologists at jail exams that a friend etched swastikas on some gun clips used during the attack, but etched 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 she wore as a student at Stoneman Douglas before her expulsion in 2017 to get “negative or positive attention, either way,” she said. Also on that backpack, she wrote “666,” 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 why I had so many weird symbols on my backpack and ask if I need help,” he told a psychologist. “I would have been honest and told them yes, but no one did.” He also said that he expected someone to hit him for the backpack, but that didn’t happen either.

Prosecution 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 that Cruz only mentioned Swas and the demons to a few examiners and was not consistent in his descriptions of him.

Prosecutors had also read pages of online posts and searches carried out by Cruz before the shooting. There were dozens of searches for porn, including from young children.

He gloated over the 2016 murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, using an anti-homosexual slur to describe the victims. He posted about his hatred of racial minorities, Christians, political liberals, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and animals, particularly alligators. Cruz also posted photos of mutilated animals. She had a history of abusing animals, but it’s not clear if these were her own photos or those of others.

Cruz also investigated how long police take to respond to mass shootings. The school campus officer arrived at the building two minutes after the first shots were fired, but never entered to confront him. First off-campus officers charged the building 11 minutes after Cruz opened fire, about four minutes after he fled. He was arrested about an hour later while walking through a neighborhood.

Cruz also threatened online to commit mass murder, including a targeted attack on Black people. There is no indication that Cruz targeted anyone for his race, politics or sexual orientation in the Stoneman Douglas shooting.


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