Expert Witnesses Take the Stand During Parkland Trial

October 9, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Several expert witnesses have taken the stand in the sentencing trial for Nikolas Cruz, the school shooter of the horrific 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school. The job of the expert witnesses is to determine if Cruz has underlying mental health issues that may have caused him to act out in the violent mass shooting.

We will cover what the expert witnesses testified in the court room, along with defining antisocial personality disorder.

What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

An expert witness— Dr. Charles L. Scott—has claimed that Cruz’s acts of aggression point towards characteristics of anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). ASPD is also known as sociopathy.

According to, an anti-social personality disorder is a mental health condition where the individual shows signs of long-term manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others.

Although the cause of ASPD is unknown, there are factors that can contribute to a person’s development with the condition. Included in those factors are genetic and environmental factors, such as child abuse, and antisocial or alcoholic parents. The condition is more commonly seen in men than women, and it is common among people who are or have been in prison.

One of the red flags for ASPD is cruel actions towards animals. That includes fire-setting or any other type of animal abuse or cruelty. A person with ASPD may have the following characteristics:

  • Witty and charming
  • Good at flattery or manipulating others
  • Issues with repeatedly breaking the law
  • Disregard for the safety of themselves or others
  • Issues with substance abuse
  • Issues with lying, stealing, and fighting
  • No signs of guilt or remorse for their actions
  • Angry or arrogant

Test Results “Not a Valid Reflection”

When Denney took the stand on Monday and Tuesday, he testified on the tests he conducted on Cruz back in March. “He is grossly exaggerating severe mental illness,” Denney began his testimony.

Denney used his own test results to check the reliability of “very low” test scores found by the defense’s neuropsychologist, Paul Connor. According to Connor’s data, Cruz fits the criteria for an alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder.

However, Denney claimed that Connor’s results are “not a valid reflection” of Cruz’s abilities, most likely because Cruz “was trying to look more impaired than he is.” Connor only used 79 out of 145 scores to display on a graphic, with 44 out of the 66 excluded showing signs of “above the impairment range.”

One example Denney used was the finger tapping test that was used to measure Cruz’s motor speed. By just looking at the test scores, it should indicate that Cruz would have slow motor skills in the real world. However, after watching the videos from the 2018 school shooting, it showed the opposite.

“The real-world functioning doesn’t match the test result,” Denney argued. “There is absolutely no way that finger tapping score is valid.”

Cruz’s ability to have “fluid motion while moving down the hallway” and killing 17 and injuring another 17 people show inconsistencies with the defense’s data.

“Real world function always trumps psychological test results, so if I have a test result that looks very, very impaired, but the real world functioning demonstrates the ability that this test measures, one of them has got to give,” Denney claimed. “The real world doesn’t give. The test data is wrong.”

‘Sociopathic’ Signs

Dr. Charles L. Scott, a forensic psychiatrist with the University of California, testified using videos of his examinations with Cruz. When looking at the shooter’s school record spanning from preschool up until the crime, it showed he had an “ability to control” his behavior when “he wanted to.”

“The evidence is extremely strong that this was planned, premeditated, thought out,” Scott said, pushing that Cruz chose Valentine’s Day, “because he had no one to love and no one to love him.”

Scott also testified that Cruz admitted his interest in school shootings, dating back to when he was only 13 and 14-years-old. “I studied mass murders and how they did it, like their plans, what they got and what they used,” Cruz told Scott.

During the rest of their recordings from March, Cruz displayed little to no emotion when answering Scott’s questions. “I wanted to shoot as many people as I could,” Cruz admitted after saying he shot one girl in the back two times as she tried to run away on the stairs.

Cruz described what happened to the last victim in a matter-of-fact way, which resulted in “nasty” looks from the victims: “His head blew up like a water balloon.”

The shooter said he only stopped once he couldn’t break open a window into the teacher’s lounge. “I couldn’t find anyone to kill. I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Cruz said.

Scott’s interpretation of the conversations with Cruz was that he could have ASPD. Additionally, Scott diagnosed Cruz with borderline personality disorder and malingering, which is intentionally engaging in false behavior. Cruz also had “deviant interests” in his online searches including child porn, which Scott claimed can be a part of ASPD.

You can find out more about expert witnesses and the role they play in a criminal trial on our page here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida 

An expert witness can play an extremely important role in a criminal trial. To contact the best expert witnesses, it is best to work with a skilled defense attorney in your area. An experienced attorney will build a strong defense for your case, and work with expert witnesses to stand trial. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients across the state for various criminal charges. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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