FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The birth mother of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz abused crack cocaine and alcohol during her pregnancy, his half-sister and another witness testified Monday – a circumstance that his lead attorney said left him with an “irreparably shattered” brain and set him on a path to mass murder.
Cruz’s lawyers began their defense on Monday, hoping to convince his jury to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole instead of death for killing 14 students and three staff in the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
His lead attorney, Melisa McNeill, told the jury during her delayed opening statement that Cruz had fetal alcohol and drug abuse issues that were not adequately treated by his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, who suffered from severe depression and financial problems after the death of her husband. suddenly when their son was 5 years old.
McNeill told the jury that doesn’t excuse what his 23-year-old client did, but they are factors they should consider as his team presents his case over several weeks.
“He’s a brain-damaged human,” she said.
She said nothing in Cruz’s life story will erase the fact that the seven men, five women and 10 alternates “saw things that will haunt us forever.” Cross pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and the trial will only decide his sentence.
“Everyone knows there is one person responsible for all this pain and suffering, and that person is Nikolas Cruz,” she said. But she hopes jurors will remember that the law ‘never requires you to vote for death’, not even ‘in the worst case imaginable, and arguably that is the worst case imaginable’.
McNeill postponed his trial opening statement first day of July 18 early in his team’s affair. For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the jury must be unanimous – if even one juror votes for life, that will be his sentence.
Defense seeks to overcome gruesome evidence presented by capped lead prosecutor Mike Satz and his team by the visit of the jurors in the fenced building that Cruz was tracking, firing about 150 shots in hallways and classrooms. Jurors saw dried blood on floors and walls, bullet holes in doors and windows, and remnants of Valentine’s Day cards and balloons.
Prosecutors also presented graphic monitoring videos; gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos; his AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle; moving testimony of teachers and students who has seen others die; and four days of tearful and angry statements from parents, spouses and other family members How? ‘Or’ What the death of their loved one touched them. The jurors also watched a video of Cruz calmly commanding a Cherry ice cream and blue raspberry minutes after the shooting and, nine months later, attack a prison guard.
The defense began its case by showing that Cruz’s late biological mother, Brenda Woodard, was a Fort Lauderdale prostitute who smoked crack cocaine and drank Colt 45 malt liquor and Cisco fortified wine during her pregnancy with him. It’s unclear whether Cruz’s biological father was a client or a rapist — there were conflicting accounts on this — but his identity is unknown and he was not a part of Woodard’s life.
Cruz spent much of the day watching the proceedings — during the prosecution’s case, he typically stared at the defense table and doodled on a notepad.
Carolyn Deakins, a former prostitute, testified Monday that she and Woodard were drinking beer one day in 1998 when Woodard fell ill. She thought it was from drugs, but Woodard told her she was pregnant. Deakins said she angrily told Woodard that she was harming her baby with drugs and alcohol, but Woodard replied that she was putting the child up for adoption and she was didn’t care.
“Nicholas, I’m sorry, but that was the way it was,” she said, looking at the defense table. Cruz lowered his eyes.
Cruz’s half-sister, Danielle Woodard, nearly 12 years her senior, was brought to court from a Miami-Dade County jail where she is awaiting trial for carjacking. Monday was the first time she had seen Cruz in person since she had held him in her arms a few minutes after his birth – “he was really uncomfortable”. Their mother kicked her out of the maternity ward for asking if they could keep him.
She confirmed that throughout her childhood, her mother abused alcohol and drugs. She said her mother would beat the drug screens during her probation by making her pee into a container and hiding it in her person. The behavior continued through another pregnancy which produced her own and Cruz’s half-brother, Zachary.
“She had an addiction. She always put that first,” Woodard said. Cruz nodded after saying she still loved her brothers.
Susan Lubar, a former Broward County preschool special needs teacher, testified that Cruz had severe language and behavior problems when she taught him when she was 4 years old. She said he would act like a tiger, curling his hands like paws and hissing at other children they got too close.
“Nikolas would push the children, scratch them, knock over the furniture, he would stay away from the other children and if they got too close he would jump,” she testified.
To calm him down, she laid a sheet on a table where he would be alone with toys and picture books, something she had never done with any child in her long career.
Other children “knew it was his space and wouldn’t try to enter it,” she said.