A respected clinical psychologist claims that Nikolas Cruz faked the severity of his mental illness and cognitive problems and was “obviously playing games” during expert exams.
On Tuesday morning, Dr. Robert Denney testified in the sentencing hearing for the 24-year-old mass murderer. Jurors will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or to death for the 2018 Valentine’s Day killings of 17 people.
Dr. Denney visited Cruz in the Broward County Jail over the course of two days in March to do a number of tests. She is one of just seven people in the world who hold board certifications in both forensic psychology and clinical neuropsychology.
He claimed Cruz cheated on the exams and “grossly exaggerated” signs of mental illness, memory loss, and other medical issues.
He said that “[he was] substantially exaggerating significant psychiatric problems as well as semantic concerns, physical concerns, cognitive concerns, and memory complaints.” “He is grossly exaggerating severe mental disease,” he remarked.
Dr. Denney stated that Cruz was “playing games” to make his abilities appear lower than they actually are on one of the tests testing memory.
Cruz “chose” to repeat the incorrect words—those that had been on the exam earlier—when asked to recollect specific terms.
Cruz has a “free recall worse than severe dementia patients,” according to the clinical neuropsychologist if he is unable to recollect the appropriate terms.
However, he claimed that Cruz repeated other words that he had been given previously instead, demonstrating that Cruz indeed has the ability to remember things, but was “playing with me” in his assessment.
According to Dr. Denney’s testimony, “He chose to give me the wrong words and that doesn’t happen in clinical practice.”
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It demonstrates that he was capable of remembering those if he so desired. He was obviously having fun with me.
This is not what you observe with true memory impairment, he continued. When someone is playing games with you, you see things like this.
Cruz was trying to appear more incapacitated than he actually is, according to Dr. Denney, who responded when the prosecutor asked if he was “faking.”
He testified, “In plain words, he was not attempting to do well on the testing.” “In my clinical opinion, he was trying to look more disabled than he is,” the doctor said.
Dr. Denney continued to say during the trial that Cruz’s level of impairment in some of his other test results was so high that, if true, he would not even be able to take the test.
The severity of this attention deficit disorder is unprecedented in human history. This disability is at that level, he added. He would be unable to take the test if his focus issues were this severe.
The most extreme setting on all of these scales, he said. And yet, the validity scale indicates that “this is not done properly,” thus we cannot accept that as true.
Brutal footage from the shooting was also provided to the jury as additional proof that Cruz’s test results did not seem to match his behavior. Only the jurors and the legal teams present in the courtroom saw a few of the video footage.
In one video, students are seen hiding on the ground inside a Marjory Stoneman school classroom while terrifying screams can be heard and rounds are fired repeatedly.
Dr. Denney discussed the video during his testimony, claiming it was in conflict with Cruz’s finger-tapping test results and suggested that he had been fabricating his symptoms.
The expert claimed that a person with a “slow finger tapping performance” would not fit the “rapidity” of the gunfire coming one after another.
Cruz can be seen shooting rounds while traveling through the school in one of the other recordings, which has not been made public.
According to Dr. Denney, it depicts Cruz as having “motor control and balance” as he “swung around the doorway” and fired the trigger with “two quick rounds.”
In a real-world setting, “such fluidity does not match a test result,” he declared. There is no possible way that the finger-tapping score could be legitimate.
Cruz has borderline and antisocial personality disorders, according to Dr. Denney’s analysis of his neurological testing.
His evidence is consistent with that of Dr. Charles Scott, a different prosecution rebuttal witness who also gave Cruz the two diagnoses.
An individual with antisocial personality disorder, often known as sociopathy, continuously disregards right and wrong and expresses no sorrow or regret for their actions.
Cruz was malingering, which is when someone purposefully fakes or exaggerates a sickness or ailment, according to Dr. Scott.
The expert evidence comes as prosecutors try to discredit the defense’s claim that Cruz has a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and that this caused him to commit the 2018 massacre by using their rebuttal case.
Cruz killed 17 students and staff members at his previous high school while carrying an AR-15. He was 19 years old at the time.
He entered a guilty plea to 17 counts of murder and attempted murder in October. A jury will now decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.
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