Nikolas Cruz: School shooter’s brain tests are said to be the subject of a court hearing

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL– A mental health expert on the criminal trial of Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz can pinpoint exactly when he realized the 23-year-old mass murderer still had “irrational thoughts” — the two made small talk when Cruz started making plans for possible life outside of prison.

Wesley Center, a Texas counselor, said that’s what happened at the Broward County Jail last year, when he placed probes on Cruz’s scalp for a scan to image his brain. The defense will try at hearings this week to persuade Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that Center and other experts should be allowed to testify against Cruz at the ongoing trial based on their tests, something prosecutors want to prohibit.

“While he was[in prison]he had a kind of epiphany that focused his thoughts on being able to help people,” the center told prosecutors during a pretrial interview earlier this year. “His purpose in life was to help others.”

Cruz, of course, will never be free. Since his arrest, about an hour after he murdered 14 students and three staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018, there was no doubt that his remaining years would serve behind bars, with no parole to the death or to sentenced to life imprisonment. Surveillance video shows him mowing down his victims with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, and he confessed and eventually pleaded guilty in October.

Prosecutors argued for the death for three weeks before the seven-member, five-member jury and 10 alternates, and rested their case on August 4 after the panel toured the still-bloody, bullet-ridden classroom where the massacre took place.

The jury also viewed graphic surveillance video; seen gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos; received emotional testimonies from teachers and students who witnessed others die; and heard from tearful and angry parents, spouses and other family members about the victims and how the death of their loved ones impacted their lives. They watched video of the former Stoneman-Douglas student calmly ordering an Icee minutes after the shooting and assaulting a prison guard nine months later.

Soon, Cruz’s attorneys will argue why he should be spared, hoping to convince at least one juror that her extenuating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances of the prosecution – a death sentence must be unanimous.

But first, the trial was adjourned last week to accommodate requests from some jurors to look into personal matters. The jury also won’t be in attendance this week as the sides argue before Scherer, who will decide whether brain scans, tests and other evidence the defense plans to present beginning August 22 is scientifically valid or junk, prosecutors claim .

The center’s test and its results will be the subject of controversial debates. Dubbed the “quantitative electroencephalogram” or “qEEG,” his supporters say it provides useful support for such diagnoses as fetal alcohol syndrome, which Cruz’s attorneys claim caused his lifelong mental and emotional problems.

Brain scans of the school shooter are said to be the subject of a court hearing

By TERRY SPENCER

today

FILE – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz listens to testimony while seated at the defense table during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse on Friday, July 22, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz had previously pleaded guilty to all 17 counts of first degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

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FILE – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz listens to testimony while seated at the defense table during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse on Friday, July 22, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz had previously pleaded guilty to all 17 counts of first degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A mental health expert on the defense in the criminal trial of Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz can tell when he realized the 23-year-old mass murderer still has “irrational thoughts” — the two did Small talk as Cruz begins describing plans for eventual life outside of prison.

Wesley Center, a Texas counselor, said that’s what happened at the Broward County Jail last year, when he placed probes on Cruz’s scalp for a scan to image his brain. The defense will try at hearings this week to persuade Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that Center and other experts should be allowed to testify against Cruz at the ongoing trial based on their tests, something prosecutors want to prohibit.

“While he was[in prison]he had a kind of epiphany that focused his thoughts on being able to help people,” the center told prosecutors during a pretrial interview earlier this year. “His purpose in life was to help others.”

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Cruz, of course, will never be free. Since his arrest, about an hour after he murdered 14 students and three staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018, there was no doubt that his remaining years would serve behind bars, with no parole to the death or to sentenced to life imprisonment. Surveillance video shows him mowing down his victims with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, and he confessed and eventually pleaded guilty in October.

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Prosecutors argued for the death for three weeks before the seven-member, five-member jury and 10 alternates, and rested their case on August 4 after the panel toured the still-bloody, bullet-ridden classroom where the massacre took place.

The jury also viewed graphic surveillance video; seen gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos; received emotional testimonies from teachers and students who witnessed others die; and heard from tearful and angry parents, spouses and other family members about the victims and how the death of their loved ones impacted their lives. They watched video of the former Stoneman-Douglas student calmly ordering an Icee minutes after the shooting and assaulting a prison guard nine months later.

Soon, Cruz’s attorneys will argue why he should be spared, hoping to convince at least one juror that her extenuating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances of the prosecution – a death sentence must be unanimous.

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But first, the trial was adjourned last week to accommodate requests from some jurors to look into personal matters. The jury also won’t be in attendance this week as the sides argue before Scherer, who will decide whether brain scans, tests and other evidence the defense plans to present beginning August 22 is scientifically valid or junk, prosecutors claim .

The center’s test and its results will be the subject of controversial debates. Dubbed the “quantitative electroencephalogram” or “qEEG,” his supporters say it provides useful support for such diagnoses as fetal alcohol syndrome, which Cruz’s attorneys claim caused his lifelong mental and emotional problems.

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EEGs have been common in medicine for a century, measuring brain waves to help doctors diagnose epilepsy and other brain disorders. But qEEG analysis, which has been around since the 1970s, takes it a step further — comparing a patient’s EEG results to a database of brainwaves taken from normal, or “neurotypical,” people. While qEEG findings cannot be used to make a diagnosis, they can support findings based on the patient’s history, examination, behavior, and other tests, proponents claim.

A “qEEG can confirm what you already know, but you can’t create new knowledge,” Center told prosecutors in his interview.

dr Charles Epstein, a neurology professor at Emory University, reviewed the center’s findings for the prosecution. In a written statement to Scherer, he said EEGs that only use external scalp probes, like Cruz’s, are inaccurate, rendering the center’s qEEG results worthless.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he wrote.

Florida judges have made mixed decisions about allowing qEEGs since 2010, when the test helped a Miami-area man escape a death sentence for fatally stabbing his wife and seriously injuring their mentally disabled 11-year-old daughter . Some judges have since granted their approval while others have denied it. Scherer, who is leading her first anti-death penalty trial, has never had a case where the defense attempted to produce a qEEG report.

Even if Scherer denies the test, lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill and her team still have evidence that Cruz’s brain was likely damaged in utero, including testimony from his late mother that she abused alcohol and cocaine during pregnancy.

They also have reports that point to his insanity. Cruz was kicked out of preschool for hurting other kids. During his public school years, he spent much of his time at a center for students with emotional problems. He also received mental health treatment for years.

Then there are his circumstances. Cruz’s adoptive father died before his eyes when he was 5; he was bullied by his younger brother and his friends; he was allegedly sexually abused by a “trustworthy colleague”; he cut himself and abused animals; and his adoptive mother died less than four months before the shooting.

His youth will also be an issue – he was 19 when the shooting took place.

Attorneys not involved in the case say that if Scherer is to avoid having a possible death sentence overturned on appeal, she should give the defense wide latitude in the narrative so the jury can fully assess his life and sanity.

“If it gets close, I think she’ll bow to the defense — and the prosecution won’t be happy about that,” said David S. Weinstein, a criminal defense attorney and former Miami district attorney.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc13.com/nikolas-cruz-brain-exam-florida-school-shooter-mental-health/12125211/ Nikolas Cruz: School shooter’s brain tests are said to be the subject of a court hearing

Dais Johnston

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