Defense raises Parkland school shooter’s sex abuse allegation; prosecution rests rebuttal

Judge’s schedule: Closing arguments Tuesday; jury to start deliberating as soon as Wednesday

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown in court during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool) (Amy Beth Bennett, © South Florida Sun Sentinel 2022)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As he delivered his cross-examination questions Thursday, capital defense attorney Casey Secor brought up the Parkland school shooter’s alleged childhood sexual abuse.

Secor said Nikolas Cruz’s abuser forced him to perform “sexual acts” in exchange for Xbox time, according to News 6 partner WPLG. The alleged abuser was an older boy whose mother was friends with his adoptive mother.

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Secor described the alleged abuse while addressing Robert Denney, a psychologist with two specialties who testified for the third day in court for the prosecution.

“There was a time when that boy came to live for a brief period of time at the Cruz home with his mother,” Secor said adding that Cruz’s trauma also included the deaths of his adoptive parents.

CONTENT WARNING: Video of when defense raises sexual assault in court

The prosecution’s rebuttal started on Sept. 27, they called seven witnesses during four days in court and rested after Denney’s testimony on Thursday afternoon.

In response to Secor’s defense, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus played two videos of Cruz’s recorded sessions with psychologists working for the prosecution. In both, Cruz said that he was “probably” about 80% confident that the abuse happened.

“I have memories of it, but I don’t want to like put him out like a sexual molester because I don’t know if it really is true or not,” Cruz said during a session with Denney on March 9.

CONTENT WARNING: Video excerpts of Parkland school shooter talking about sex abuse

Cruz also told the psychologists that his brother had the same memories because he was also a victim. Marcus said that during sworn out-of-court testimony Cruz’s brother denied the abuse.

After the prosecution rested, Chief Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill asked to call a witness who was familiar with the alleged sexual abuse to testify for appellate purposes.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied her request.


During rebuttal, the prosecution was working to establish that the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was not associated with Cruz’s biological mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy — as the defense experts had alleged.

Marcus introduced Denney on Monday as one of the few psychologists in the world who are board certified in both clinical neuropsychology and forensic psychology.

Denney said he spent five hours interviewing Cruz and six hours testing him in front of one of his attorneys. He recorded videos of the sessions, some of which the prosecution played for the jury to see in court.

“I felt like no one loved me and I didn’t like Valentine’s Day and I wanted to ruin it for everyone ... for the school,” Cruz told Denney during a session.

Denney also testified on Tuesday that Cruz was “grossly exaggerating” severe mental illness during psychological testing. He also said Cruz appeared to be malingering, lying about an illness to gain benefits.


Denney questioned the conclusions of two defense witnesses: Paul Connor, a neuropsychologist, and Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones, who is world-renowned as the “father of fetal alcohol syndrome.”

Lyons, who helped to identify FAS in 1973, testified he used Connor’s data to conclude that Cruz fulfills the criteria for alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, which causes intellectual disabilities — and Lyons said can lead to murder. Denney disagreed.

Instead, Denney agreed with Dr. Charles L. Scott, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the defense, and said Cruz’s “premeditated acts of aggression” are characteristic of borderline personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder and not ARND, which is associated with deficits.

“It’s a personality issue, but at any one moment is something they can control,” Denney said about ASPD, also known as sociopathy.

The prosecution included examples of Cruz’s racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic expressions before and after the MSD massacre during Scott’s and Denney’s testimony, as evidence of ASPD.

“They disparage others. They have a lack of remorse about harming or hurting other people,” Scott said about sociopaths.

Denney agreed with Scott and he also told Marcus that Cruz’s behavior — including child pornography searches, violence toward animals, and his detailed planning and execution of the MSD massacre — was not characteristic of ARND but of ASPD.

The prosecution played a video of a remorseless Cruz telling Denney during one of the recorded sessions that he had targeted many types of animals in his neighborhood.

“I burned, I tortured them, I skinned them alive, I shot them,” Cruz said.

To conclude Denney’s rebuttal testimony Thursday, Marcus listed the 17 victims of the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at MSD, as he asked if ARND was characteristic of the behavior he displayed that day.

Denney answered in the negative 17 times.


Scherer asked the jury to return to court at 8:30 a.m., on Tuesday for closing arguments. She also said the jury will be sequestered when they begin deliberating on Wednesday.

The prosecution rested on Aug. 4 after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, and the public defenders who are trying to save his life rested on Sept. 14 after calling 26 witnesses in 11 days.

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder last year. The murder counts allowed only two sentences: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.

Florida requires a jury’s unanimous vote to recommend death for each of the 17 counts of murder. The defense aims to convince one of the 12 jurors to choose life for all 17 murder cases, so Cruz can avoid execution.

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.