FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A protection psychological well being knowledgeable within the penalty trial of Florida faculty shooter Nikolas Cruz can pinpoint when he realized the 23-year-old mass assassin nonetheless has “irrational ideas” — the 2 have been making small discuss when Cruz started describing plans for an eventual life exterior jail.
Wesley Middle, a Texas counselor, stated that occurred final yr on the Broward County jail as he fitted Cruz’s scalp with probes for a scan to map his mind. The protection at hearings this week will attempt to persuade Circuit Choose Elizabeth Scherer that Middle and different specialists must be allowed to testify at Cruz’s ongoing trial about what their exams confirmed, one thing the prosecution desires barred.
“He had some kind of epiphany whereas he was in (jail) that may focus his ideas on having the ability to assist folks,” transcripts present Middle advised prosecutors throughout a pretrial interview this yr. “His life’s objective was to be serving to others.”
Cruz, in fact, won’t ever be free. Since his arrest about an hour after he murdered 14 college students and three employees members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Excessive College on Feb. 14, 2018, there has by no means been any doubt his remaining years could be behind bars, sentenced to demise or life with out parole. Surveillance video exhibits him mowing down his victims with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and he confessed, ultimately pleading responsible in October.
Prosecutors made their argument for demise to the seven-man, five-woman jury and 10 alternates over three weeks, resting their case Aug. 4 after the panel toured the still-bloodstained, bullet-pocked classroom constructing the place the bloodbath occurred.
The jurors additionally watched graphic surveillance movies; noticed ugly crime scene and post-mortem images; obtained emotional testimony from academics and college students who witnessed others die; and heard from tearful and offended dad and mom, spouses and different members of the family concerning the victims and how their liked one’s demise impacted their lives. They watched video of the previous Stoneman Douglas scholar calmly ordering an Icee minutes after the capturing and, 9 months later, attacking a jail guard.
Quickly, it will likely be Cruz’s attorneys arguing why he must be spared, hoping to persuade a minimum of one juror their mitigating components outweigh the prosecution’s aggravating circumstances — a demise sentence have to be unanimous.
However first, the trial took final week off to accommodate some jurors’ requests to take care of private issues. The jury can even be absent this week as the perimeters argue earlier than Scherer, who will determine whether or not mind scans, exams and different proof the protection desires to current beginning Aug. 22 is scientifically legitimate or junk, because the prosecution contends.
Middle’s take a look at and its findings will likely be topic to contentious debate. Known as a “quantitative electroencephalogram” or “qEEG,” its backers say it supplies helpful assist to such diagnoses as fetal alcohol syndrome, which Cruz’s attorneys contend created his lifelong psychological and emotional issues.
EEGs have been widespread in drugs for a century, measuring brainwaves to assist docs diagnose epilepsy and different mind illnesses. However the qEEG evaluation, which has been round for the reason that Nineteen Seventies, goes a step farther — a affected person’s EEG outcomes are in comparison with a database of brainwaves taken from regular or “neurotypical” folks. Whereas qEEG findings can’t be used to make a analysis, they will assist findings primarily based on the affected person’s historical past, examination, conduct and different exams, supporters contend.
A “qEEG can verify what you already know, however you possibly can’t create new information,” Middle advised prosecutors in his interview.
Dr. Charles Epstein, an Emory College neurology professor, reviewed Middle’s findings for the prosecution. In a written assertion to Scherer, he stated EEGs utilizing solely exterior scalp probes just like the one given Cruz are imprecise, making Middle’s qEEG outcomes nugatory.
“Rubbish in, rubbish out,” he wrote.
Florida judges have given combined rulings about permitting qEEGs since 2010, when the take a look at helped a Miami-area man escape a demise sentence for fatally stabbing his spouse and severely wounding her mentally disabled 11-year-old daughter. Some judges have since allowed their admission, whereas others barred them. Scherer, who’s overseeing her first demise penalty trial, has by no means had a case the place the protection tried to current a qEEG report.
Even when Scherer bars the take a look at, lead protection legal professional Melisa McNeill and her crew nonetheless have proof that Cruz’s mind possible suffered harm within the womb, together with statements by his late beginning mom that she abused alcohol and cocaine throughout being pregnant.
Additionally they have experiences giving circumstantial proof of his psychological sickness. Cruz acquired kicked out of preschool for hurting different kids. Throughout his years in public faculty, he spent vital time at a middle for college students with emotional points. He additionally obtained years of psychological well being remedy.
Then there are his life circumstances. Cruz’s adoptive father died in entrance of him when he was 5; he was bullied by his youthful brother and his brother’s mates; he was allegedly abused sexually by a “trusted peer;” he reduce himself and abused animals; and his adoptive mom died lower than 4 months earlier than the capturing.
His youth can even be a difficulty — he was 19 when the capturing occurred.
Attorneys not concerned within the case say if Scherer desires to keep away from having a attainable demise sentence overturned on enchantment, she ought to give the protection large latitude on what it presents so jurors can totally assess his life and psychological well being.
“If it is a shut name, I believe she goes to bend to the protection — and the prosecution just isn’t going to be comfortable,” stated David S. Weinstein, a Miami legal protection lawyer and former prosecutor.
Daniel Elton, senior editor at Wahu Times, writes about politics and policy with a focus on climate advocacy. Daniel previously at the New Republic and, and Self. Daniel can be reached by email.