South Florida

Interrogation Tape Analysis: Is Nikolas Cruz Competent to Stand Trial?

What to Know

  • Prosecutors on Wednesday released video of the interrogation of confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz.
  • Cruz claims a "demon" voice told him to "burn, kill, destroy" people the day before the Feb. 14 massacre.
  • Moving forward, these tapes raise the question of whether Cruz is even competent to stand trial. NBC 6's Willard Shepard speaks to a DA.

Now that the public is seeing the video of Nikolas Cruz telling police that demons told him to hurt people, one major legal question that will come before Broward Judge Elizabeth Scherer stands out: is Cruz competent to stand trial?

Just hours after the tragedy, Cruz was telling a Broward Sheriff's Office detective that voices told him to "burn, kill, destroy." When the detective asked, "burn, kill, destroy what?" Cruz responded "Anything."

Cruz' defense team tried to prevent the public from ever seeing the comments to the BSO detective, but Judge Scherer ruled otherwise.

South Florida defense attorney David Kubiliun said that finding out if Cruz is competent to stand trial comes way before any potential claims of insanity.

"At this point, the fact that we find out that he was hearing voices certainly raises some concerns here," Kubiliun told NBC 6. "What it boils down to is whether or not Mr. Cruz can assist his attorneys with their defense. So he has to basically understand the nature of the proceedings. I know who the judge is — know who the state attorney is and basically understand what is going on."

Kubiliun also says on the table for the court, could a fair jury be seated in Broward County?

"The big issue here is a change of venue," he said. "When prejudicial publicity is coupled with an inflamed community atmosphere, a defendant is entitled to a change of venue to ensure that his sixth amendment right or having an impartial jury hear the case and his 14th amendment due process right of having a fair trial could be compromised."

Moving the trial would cause victims' families, court workers, the defense and prosecutors all to pick up and move for a while and the expenses would be an extra burden for taxpayers.

Another option would be to do what happened in the Casey Anthony trial and bring in the jury from another county.

When it comes to Cruz and his defense team claiming insanity, Kubiliun says that's not a factor until a trial actually takes place and that could be a long way off.

Cruz' defense team has said from the beginning that all of this can be avoided, and as long as the state removes the death penalty, he'll plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in jail.

Contact Us