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The school shooter’s use of the swastika is the focus of a legal battle

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors and attorneys for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz argued Wednesday over whether jurors in …

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors and attorneys for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz argued Wednesday over whether jurors at an upcoming sentencing hearing should learn about the swastika carved into the stock of his gun, its racist, homophobic and threatening messages online, his computer searches for child pornography and his animal cruelty.

Prosecutors argued that the swastika, racism, messages, computer searches and animal cruelty were the basis of psychologists’ diagnosis that Cruz, 23, suffers from various behavioral control disorders, but is not mentally ill and understands his behavior. Their psychologists also say reports show he was not mentally impaired when he killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Marcus told District Judge Elizabeth Scherer that the prosecution plans to use the evidence only to rebut the defense’s expected argument that Cruz suffers from mental illness and is intellectually disabled.

The disputed evidence paints a “complete picture” of Cruz’s personality and interests, he said.

“It’s certainly not a pretty picture. It’s a very ugly picture,” Markus said.

Tamara Curtis, one of Cruz’s public defenders, told Scherer that she would make her final argument in writing. In previous court filings and statements, the defense argued that the prosecution’s use of such evidence would only inflame jurors during the trial, which is set to begin on July 18. They said that the swastikas, messages and searches are not relevant to demonstrating the aggravating factors that the prosecution must prove, such as several deaths, Cruz’s brutality towards his victims and his planning.

Scherer said she would decide later whether evidence could be presented. In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder. A jury, which was recently selected during a nearly three-month trial, will decide whether he faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole. For Cruz to receive the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on what Cruz told psychologists who examined him after the shootings, as recently as March, along with his computer messages and searches. Cruz spent most of the hearing with his head down, scribbling away on paper, occasionally looking up to speak to one of his attorneys.

According to reports read, Cruz told psychologists during a prison examination that his friend carved a swastika on some of the gun magazines used in the attack, but he carved a Nazi symbol on the boots he wore. The friend was not involved in the attack or its planning.

Cruz also painted the swastika on a backpack he used when he was a student at Stoneman Douglas before his expulsion in 2017 to attract “negative attention or positivity, whatever,” he said. He also wrote “666” on that backpack, a number some Christians associate with the Antichrist and a racist term for black people.

“I thought people were coming up to me and asking why I had so many strange symbols on my backpack and asking if I needed help,” he told one psychologist. “I would be honest and tell them what I did, but no one did.” He also said he was hoping someone would hit him by the backpack, but that didn’t happen either.

Prosecutor’s psychologist Michael Brennan said he believed Cruz was faking it when, after the shooting, he told other psychologists that a male voice named “Svas,” which means swastika, told him to commit violence and that he had demons. He said Cruz only mentioned Svas and demons to some examiners and was not consistent in his descriptions.

Prosecutors also read pages of Internet posts and searches Cruz conducted before the shooting. There were dozens of searches for pornography, including young children.

He gloated about killing 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, using obscene terms to describe the victims. He has written about his hatred of racial minorities, Christians, political liberals, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and animals, especially alligators. Cruz also posted pictures of mutilated animals. He had a history of abusing animals, but it’s unclear if the photos were his own or someone else’s.

Cruz also looked into how long it takes police to respond to mass shootings. A campus school deputy arrived at the building two minutes after the first shots were fired, but never went inside to confront him. The first off-campus officers stormed the building 11 minutes after Cruz opened fire, about four minutes after he fled. He was apprehended about an hour later while he was walking around the neighborhood.

Cruz also made online threats to commit mass murder, including targeting black people. There is no indication that Cruz attacked anyone because of their race, politics, or sexual orientation during the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or distributed.

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