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A former neighbor of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz told jurors Wednesday that the then-10-year-old was “unattractive” and looked like fictitious MAD mascot Alfred Neuman.
“Please, and I’m sorry to say this in front of the boy, but he was not attractive. You could see that something’s just not right,” Steven Schusler said of Cruz, now 23. “He looked like Alfred E. Neuman. He had big ears. He had a quirky face.”
Schusler was called as a defense witness at Cruz’s penalty trial in Broward County Circuit Court, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staffers.
The trial will determine whether the gunman, then 19, is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole. The decision must be unanimous.
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Schusler was describing the first time he met Cruz around 2010. He was renting a guest house across the street and the landlady introduced him to Cruz and his brother, Zachary.
The landlady allegedly pointed to Cruz and said, “He’s the weird one,” according to Schusler. The boy appeared mortified by the insult.
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“It looked like a snail that you put salt on. They just shrivel up, and he just shriveled up, and he stood there while she said he was ‘weird,’ standing right in front of him,” Schusler recalled.
The neighbor recounted Cruz’s strange behavior – including the way he awkwardly ran and the bizarre interactions with his adoptive mother.
“This boy did not go bad. He was never right,” Schusler said.
A psychologist who treated Cruz when he was 8 said the child had a host of behavioral and developmental issues.
It was the third day of the defense case, which so far has focused on Cruz’s troubled upbringing and severe mental and emotional problems. His birth mother was a sex worker who abused cocaine and alcohol when she was pregnant with him.
When Cruz was 5, his adoptive father died in front of him. His mother, Lynda Cruz, struggled to cope with the demands of her special needs son and his biological brother, Zachary Cruz, who she also adopted. Lynda Cruz died four months before the shooting.
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Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill argued in opening statements that Cruz was born damaged.