Expert Says Cruz Faked Fetal Alcohol Symptoms

School shooter scored low on finger-tapping test, but pulled trigger 20 times in 7 seconds
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 4, 2022 5:15 PM CDT
Expert Says Cruz Faked Fetal Alcohol Symptoms
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown at the defense table during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.   (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Prosecutors spent several dull hours Tuesday trying to prove Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz purposely did poorly on tests administered to see if he suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the primary reason his attorneys say he murdered 17 people four years ago. But after presenting dozens of charts showing the results of IQ tests and other examinations and long explanations of averages and standard deviations that even had the judge joking she understood why some jurors were drinking strong Cuban coffee, assistant prosecutor Jeff Marcus pulled his trump card, the AP reports. He turned to the simplest test given to Cruz: How fast can the confessed killer tap his dominant left index finger?

During tests administered earlier this year by experts his attorneys hired, Cruz averaged 22 taps in 10 seconds. Prosecution neuropsychologist Robert Denney said the average male scores 51 on that test and a 22 would be a score only someone with a severe brain injury that causes physical stiffness would tally. Marcus then played a cellphone video snippet from the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that recorded Cruz firing his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle 20 times in seven seconds that included a one-second pause—each shot required a separate trigger pull. He then showed security video of Cruz smoothly turning and firing two shots into a coach who tried to stop him and another of him quickly removing his gun's magazine and reloading a new one.

A person who genuinely scored so poorly on the finger tapping test "would not be able to pull the trigger like that," Denney said, nor would he be able to fire and reload in one motion like he did. Denney, who does contract work for the federal prison system, testified Tuesday that he disagrees with the defense experts' contention that Cruz suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Lead prosecutor Mike Satz hopes Denney's testimony will rebut the defense’s contention that heavy drinking by Cruz’s birth mother during pregnancy put him on a lifelong path of bizarre and sometimes violent behavior that culminated in the shootings. Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to the murders of 14 students and three staff members. The trial will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole. (More Nikolas Cruz stories.)

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