WATCH LIVE: Parkland school shooter’s 3rd-grade teacher testifies about delays, aggression
A veteran Broward special education teacher who was the Parkland school shooter’s third-grade teacher was the first witness on the stand on Monday in Fort Lauderdale.
Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis handed Lynne Rodriguez, a Broward County Public Schools employee, a stack of records that Rodriguez held to say Nikolas Cruz was below at all levels.
“He could be cursing and angry and throwing things … sometimes he would rip up other students’ work,” Rodriguez said adding his behavior was both “disruptive and aggressive” and included “yelling” and “cursing.”
Lynne Rodriguez testifies in Broward County court on Monday during the Parkland school shooter’s death penalty phase in Fort Lauderdale.
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.” She later said the defense team has over 80 witnesses to call in an effort to save his life.
Attorney Robin Bresky, who is not involved in the case, but has been following it on Local 10 News, said the defense is trying to “humanize” Cruz and “make him as sympathetic as possible.”
As of Monday morning, the defense had called 12 witnesses, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering addict who was arrested with his biological mother for cocaine possession when she was pregnant with Cruz.
Aside from special education teachers, the defense has also called two psychiatrists, a clinical psychologist, a licensed therapist, and a school counselor who treated Cruz for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.
During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that his mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 a homicidal Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15.
In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Cruz rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured and the loved ones of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements.
The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous jury vote, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is presiding over the case. She said the court was in recess until 11:05 a.m.