Chilling video footage shows Nikolas Cruz acting out how he skinned lizards alive from the age of four during an interview with a forensic psychiatrist earlier this year.
The video clip, played in Cruz’s sentencing trial on Tuesday, shows the mass murderer nonchalantly describing his first memories of torturing and killing animals to Dr Charles Scott.
Dr Scott, the prosecutor’s rebuttal witness, interviewed Cruz over three full days in March 2022 as part of his extensive psychiatric evaluation of the Parkland gunman.
In one interview on 2 March, Dr Scott asked Cruz when he recalled first hurting animals.
“I broke a lizards back with a rock,” Cruz quickly replied in the video clip, adding that he believes he was around three years old at the time.
“It was just something me and my brother did. We went around killing lizards,” he said.
The gunman then volunteered more details about his torture of lizards, matter of factly saying: “Sometimes I skinned them alive. Sometime I set them on fire.”
When asked how he skinned the animals, Cruz put his hands on the table and acted out the gruesome motion.
“I just took them to a little table and I took a knife and just scraped,” he said, making a scraping hand gesture.
He then described how he burned lizards alive and again acted out the motion.
“Took a lighter – swoosh,” he said, making the sound of the creature going up in flames.
Cruz said that lizards “burn instantly” and “they start curling up and then just fall over”.
The video clip was one of several played in court on Tuesday as Dr Scott testified how he diagnosed the mass shooter with antisocial personality disorder.
He explained that an individual is diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder if they meet three or more specific criteria out of seven. Cruz meets six of the seven, he told the court.
Antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathy, is a mental disorder where the individual consistently shows no regard for right and wrong, ignores the rights and feelings of others and shows no remorse for their actions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The forensic psychiatrist said that he has spent between 400 and 500 hours on Cruz’s case since November including analysing thousands of records and interviewing Cruz in person.
Through his evaluation, he said he came to three diagnostic conclusions about Cruz: antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and malingering.
The psychiatrist said that he found “robust evidence” of malingering – where an individual fakes or exaggerates their symptoms.
He said that Cruz was “reporting extreme mental health symptoms and physical symptoms are highly atypical” and “not supported by records”.
Jurors were shown another video clip from Dr Scott’s interview with Cruz on 1 March 2022 as evidence of this.
In the video, the mass shooter tried to claim that he believes the swastika is a symbol “of peace”.
In court earlier on Tuesday, the court was shown a photo of a gun magazine used in the 2018 massacre. The magazine had a swastika carved in it.
Another photo showed a swastika carved on Cruz’s black military boots that he wore when he carried out the attack.
Jurors were also shown some of the Cruz’s internet history and online searches from the lead-up to the massacre, including searches for Nazi paraphernalia such as a swastika tattoo and Nazi flag as well as a search for “Hitler’s birthday”. Cruz also used racist language and spoke of his hatred for Black people online.
“I can’t wait to kill Black people and rape a girl in 2020,” he wrote online.
“I will kill as many Black people as I can.”
The internet searches also showed Cruz sought out child porn, with multiple searches for nude images of “little girls”, including phrases “little girls naked in shower” and “little girl p***ies”.
When asked about his use of swastikas in his interview with Dr Scott, Cruz claimed that he only put the Nazi symbols on his items “for attention” – before then claiming he saw it as a “peace” sign.
“Anything about swastikas or when I said nasty remarks about race... it was all for attention,” he said.
Cruz then launched into an explanation that he wasn’t responsible for carving the Nazi symbol on the gun magazine.
“I didn’t write that at all,” he said, claiming that a friend drew it on the magazine when they were “just chilling out” together.
Cruz then admitted he did carve a swastika on his military boots but said it was only for attention.
“Someone told me I had a swastika on my boot. I did do that but that was just for attention,” he said.
When asked about what he understood about the Nazi symbol, Cruz said that it was originally a Native American symbol for peace before the Nazis used it.
He claimed that he mainly saw it as a symbol for “peace”.
Family members of Cruz’s victims were seen smirking in disbelief and shaking their heads in the gallery in the courtroom as they watched the footage.
Dr Scott said that he believes Cruz was “trying to manage people” and put himself in a “positive light” during that point of the interview.
Claiming that he sees the swastika as a symbol of peace is “inconsistent” with using an item featuring the symbol to kill 17 people with a gun, he told the court.
During Tuesday’s court session, jurors were also shown disturbing jailhouse notes Cruz made while behind bars awaiting trial.
In one of the harrowing sketches, Cruz appeared to recreate the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, with a gunman shooting students sitting at desks in a classroom.
Several of his notes also reveal an obsession with the devil, with Satanic symbols, drawings of a devil figure and repeated use of the number “666”.
In another note, he writes “I just hope there is another mass shooting” as he appears to be advising someone to carry out such a massacre.
Cruz also appears to show his enjoyment for violence, writing that he likes “wasting everyone” because it’s so much f***ing fun. I laugh. I laugh ... I love f***ing pain and death,” he writes.
Jurors also heard how Cruz used his own hemorrhoids blood to write “666” on the walls of his prison cell.
The rebuttal comes as the state seeks to challenge Cruz’s defence that behavioural and psychological issues, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) caused by his biological mother drinking while pregnant, led him to carry out the 2018 mass shooting.
Instead, prosecutors aim to show that Cruz has antisocial personality disorder and is fully responsible for his murderous rampage, planning out the attack and showing no remorse for the murders of 17 students and staff members.
The state’s rebuttal case began after a two-week pause in the trial, which was prompted by the defence’s bombshell move to rest its case days if not weeks before expected.
Cruz’s team had been expected to call up to 80 witnesses but shocked both the judge and the state by announcing it was resting on 14 September after only around 25 witnesses had taken the stand.
Prosecutors said that they were unprepared for their rebuttal because of the sudden announcement and so would need around two weeks to prepare their case.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer launched into a scathing admonishment of the defence over the saga, calling their actions “the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try a case”.
Following her criticism, Cruz’s team called for her to stand down from the trial, accusing her of being biased and prejudicing jurors in the case. Judge Scherer refused the request.
The state’s rebuttal is now expected to last two weeks – with Hurricane Ian not expected to disrupt proceedings – after which time the jury will begin deliberations.
Cruz, who turned 24 on Saturday, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts attempted murder.
Now, jurors will decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.