Florida school shooter’s birth mom abused cocaine, alcohol

Aug 21, 2022, 8:07 PM | Updated: Aug 22, 2022, 3:31 pm
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz watches as Assistant Public Defender Meli...

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz watches as Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill gives the defense's opening statement during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — 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 irretrievably broken” brain and set him on the road to mass murder.

Cruz’s attorneys began their defense Monday, hoping to convince his jury to sentence him to life without parole instead of death for slaying 14 students and three staff members during the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

His lead attorney, Melisa McNeill, told the jury during her deferred opening statement that Cruz has fetal alcohol and drug issues that weren’t dealt with adequately by his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, who suffered from severe depression and financial woes after her husband died suddenly when their son was 5. McNeill told the jury that doesn’t excuse what her 23-year-old client did, but are factors they should consider as her team presents its case over several weeks.

“He is a brain-damaged human,” she said.

She said nothing in Cruz’s life story will erase that the seven men, five women and 10 alternates have “seen things that will haunt us forever.” Cruz 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 that pain and all of that 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 it’s arguable that this is the worst case imaginable.”

McNeill deferred her opening statement from the trial’s first day of July 18 to the beginning of her team’s case. For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the jury must be unanimous — if even one juror votes for life, that will be his sentence.

The defense is seeking to overcome horrendous evidence laid out by lead prosecutor Mike Satz and his team, capped by the jurors’ visit to the fenced-off building that Cruz stalked, firing about 150 shots down halls and into 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 surveillance videos; gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos; his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle; emotional testimony from teachers and students who saw others die; and four days of tearful, angry statements from parents, spouses and other family members about how their loved one’s death affected them. Jurors also watched video of Cruz calmly ordering a cherry and blue raspberry Icee minutes after the shooting and, nine months later, attacking a jail guard.

The defense began its case by showing that Cruz’s late birth 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 is unknown whether Cruz’s birth father was a customer or a rapist — there was conflicting testimony on that — but his identity is unknown and he was not part of Woodard’s life.

Cruz spent much of the day looking up at the proceedings — during the prosecution’s case, he usually stared at the defense table and scribbled on a pad.

Carolyn Deakins, a former prostitute, testified Monday that she and Woodard were drinking beer one day in 1998 when Woodard got sick. She thought it was because of drugs, but Woodard told her she was pregnant. Deakins said she angrily told Woodard she was harming her baby with drugs and drinking, but Woodard replied she was putting the child up for adoption and didn’t care.

“Nickolas, I am sorry, but that’s how it was,” she said, peering over at the defense table. Cruz looked down.

Cruz’s half-sister, Danielle Woodard, nearly 12 years older, was brought to the courtroom from a Miami-Dade County jail where she is awaiting trial on a carjacking charge. Monday was the first time she had seen Cruz in person since she held him minutes after his birth — “he was really squirmy.” 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 drug screens while on probation by having her urinate into a container and hide it in her person. The behavior continued through another pregnancy that birthed hers and Cruz’s half-brother, Zachary.

“She had an addiction. She always put that first,” Woodard said. Cruz nodded after she said she still loved her brothers.

Susan Lubar, a former Broward County teacher of preschool special needs, testified that Cruz had severe language and behavioral problems when she taught him at age 4. She said he would act like a tiger, curling his hands like paws and hissing at other children if they got too close.

“Nikolas would push children, scratch at them, topple over furniture, he would stay away from other children and if they got too close, he would pounce,” she testified.

To calm him, she put a sheet over a table where he would go to be alone with toys and picture books, something she never did with any child since in her long career.

Other children “knew that was his space and wouldn’t try to go in there,” she said.


Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

EU agrees on price cap for Russian oil over Ukraine war

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries agreed on Wednesday to impose new sanctions on Russia after it illegally annexed four regions in Ukraine, according to an EU official, including an expected price cap on Russian oil. EU member-state diplomats struck the deal in Brussels, said the official representing the Czech Republic, which holds the 27-nation […]
1 day ago
Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, speaks to the...
Associated Press

WTO predicts trade growth to slow next year amid crises

GENEVA (AP) — The World Trade Organization is predicting global trade volumes will grow a lackluster 1% next year as crises and challenges weigh on markets, including high energy prices, rising interest rates and uncertainties about Chinese manufacturing output amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. The Geneva-based trade body said Wednesday that the amount of goods […]
1 day ago
A resident wades through floodwaters, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Ubon Ratchathani province, northe...
Associated Press

Thai capital on alert for flooding as heavy rains expected

BANGKOK (AP) — Authorities in Thailand warned Wednesday of possible serious flooding in the capital and other parts of the central region from heavy seasonal rainfall expected through the rest of the week. The situation is being worsened by a large volume of water moving downriver from flooding in northern provinces and from discharges from […]
1 day ago
Men weep as they offer prayer outside Kanjuruhan Stadium where a soccer stampede killed more than 1...
Associated Press

Indonesian leader says locked gates contributed to deaths

MALANG, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday that locked gates had contributed to the crush at the soccer stadium that left 131 dead and over 400 injured when police fired tear gas and set off a panicked run for the exits. Widodo made the statement after touring the Kanjuruhan soccer stadium […]
1 day ago
FILE - Residents who rode out the storm arrive at a dock to evacuate by boat in the aftermath of Hu...
Associated Press

Hurricane Ian closes some Florida schools indefinitely

The devastation from Hurricane Ian has left schools shuttered indefinitely in parts of Florida, leaving storm-weary families anxious for word on when and how children can get back to classrooms. As rescue and recovery operations continue in the storm’s aftermath, several school systems in hard-hit counties in southwestern Florida can’t say for sure when they’ll […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this image made from video, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng speaks in Taipei, Ta...
Associated Press

Taiwan vows to respond to China’s military flight incursions

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s defense minister on Wednesday said the island will respond to incursions into its airspace by Chinese warplanes and drones, but gave no details on specific actions. Responding to questions from legislators, Chiu Kuo-cheng said China’s newly aggressive stance had changed what Taiwan would define as a “first strike” that would […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Florida school shooter’s birth mom abused cocaine, alcohol