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Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Photo: South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP

Parkland school shooter wanted to ruin Valentine’s Day forever: ‘No one would love me’

  • Nikolas Cruz told a psychologist he chose that date to massacre 17 people so no one at the school would ever celebrate it again
  • A US jury must decide whether to sentence the gunman, who has pleaded guilty to the Florida killings, to death or life without parole

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 began wrapping up their rebuttal case on Thursday by playing that video clip from jailhouse interviews Cruz did with their psychologist hoping it bolsters their contention that he was not driven to kill by a mental disorder he could not 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 February 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.

Clinical neuropsychologist Robert Denney testifies during the penalty phase of the trial of Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Thursday. Photo: South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP

Cruz’s lawyers 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 on Thursday that Cruz says he was raped and sexually molested numerous times by a neighbour when he was nine.

Robert Denney, a Missouri neuropsychologist testifying for the prosecution, interviewed and tested Cruz last March over three days – under Florida law, if defence lawyers 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 on Thursday that Cruz does not have fetal alcohol issues, but has antisocial personality disorder – in lay terms, he is a sociopath.

Parkland school shooter pleads guilty, says he’s ‘very sorry’

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 cannot control.

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?”

People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. Photo: AP

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.

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

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

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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 defence lawyer Casey Secor, Denney conceded Cruz said in their interviews he had been molested and raped by a neighbour.

It is an issue the defence has wanted to present several times, but Judge Scherer ruled that the only three people who can corroborate the accusation are not available.

Lynda Cruz, his adoptive mother, died months before the shootings and the alleged rapist and his mother no longer live in the United States and cannot be forced to appear as witnesses.