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Prosecutors for Parkland school shooter begin rebuttal case as they push for death penalty

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz capital murder trial
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz holds a photograph of the weapon used by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter in the 2018 shootings. At the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

The Parkland school shooter carved a swastika into his rifle's magazine, commented that he wanted to rape and kill and likely exagerated his mental illness, according to testimony today.

The prosecution in the penalty phase of the shooter's death penalty trial started their rebuttal case Tuesday. This stage comes after the defense unexpectedly rested their case early and allows for the state to respond to claims made by defense during their case.

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Prosecutors are arguing that the shooter had antisocial personality disorder. If he suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder instead, like his lawyers argued, it would have interfered with his ability to plan ahead. This is a crucial difference the jury could use to decide if he gets the death penalty.

The day started with quick testimonies from Broward Sheriff's Office deputies who identified the shooter's rifle and boots. Both had swastikas carved into them.

The defense previously argued against showing this evidence to jurors because they said the killings were not done out of prejudice. Eight of the victims were girls and four were racial minorities.

Detective Nick Masters read some internet searches out loud to jurors. The shooter searched online for child pornography and used sexist and racist language while commenting online. He called women "evil" and talked about killing Black people and women especially. Five of the 12 jurors are women and seven identify as racial minorities. 

One of Cruz's attorneys, Nawal Bashimam, questioned Masters about the shooter's other searches including "how to get a girlfriend" and "group therapy sessions." He said that he remembered seeing them.

A deputy who works in the jail where Nikolas Cruz is being held also testified that Cruz smeared satanic symbols on the walls of his cell using his own blood. He read aloud notes written by Cruz in which he fixates on death and blood.

The afternoon continued with the testimony of Dr. Charles Scott, a forensic psychiatrist hired by prosecutors. He argued that Cruz suffers from antisocial personality behavior disorder, borderline personality disorder and that he lied about the severity of his mental illness during testing.

Scott spent 21 hours interviewing Cruz in March of this year. He played several of these clips to prove his argument that Cruz suffers from these behavior disorders but is still functional. He could problem solve, read advanced books and plan ahead for the shooting, Scott said.

During the defense's case they argued that Cruz's birth mother drank and used drugs during her pregnancy. This, they said, caused Cruz's violent behavior growing up. They also contested that his adopted mother, Lynda Cruz, was overwhelmed by raising him and was inconsistent in getting him treatment for his mental illness.

Cruz, now 24, already pleaded guilty to killing 17 people and trying to kill 17 more. This phase of the trial is only to decide his punishment—death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. To sentence him to death, the jury must be unanimous on each of the 17 counts of murder.

Courts are closed Wednesday and Thursday due to Hurricane Ian. Closing arguments are scheduled for the week of Oct. 10.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.