WATCH LIVE: Parkland school shooting’s death penalty phase continues with more witness testimony
The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listen to more of the defense’s witnesses on Tuesday in Broward County court.
On Monday, the jurors heard the testimony of family friend Finai Browd, a speech and language pathologist, and a teacher, who all agreed that Nikolas Cruz had behavioral problems and difficulty learning.
Browd said she met Lynda Cruz, the shooter’s adoptive mother, while they worked together in New York and Cruz had about four miscarriages. She said they remained friends when they both moved to Florida and she adopted her two sons.
Nikolas Cruz, who was troubled, engaged in “inappropriate touching with my daughter,” Browd said by way of a July 14 deposition recorded on Zoom.
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.” They have been sharing photos of his childhood ever since.
A family friend shows a picture of the late Lynda Cruz kissing Nikolas Cruz.
Shameka Stanford, a speech and language pathologist, said he suffered from a language delay. She also said prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause brain damage.
“Behaviorally there was a lot of overt physical behavior that was just the default,” Stanford said adding these included “pulling his hair” and “banging his head.”
Attorney Robin Bresky, who is not involved in the case, but has been following it on Local 10 News, said the defense was trying to “humanize” Cruz and “make him as sympathetic as possible.”
“I think it’s going to tie into the fetal alcohol syndrome,” Bresky said about the defense’s purpose for Stanford’s expert testimony.
Defense attorneys introduced this photo of the Cruz family into evidence on Aug. 23. Lynda and Roger pose with their adoptive sons, Nikolas and Zachary.
Lynne Rodriguez, a veteran Broward special education teacher who was Cruz’s third-grade teacher, described Cruz as disruptive and aggressive.
“He could be cursing and angry and throwing things … sometimes he would rip up other students’ work,” Rodriguez said adding his behavior often included “yelling” and “cursing.”
As of Tuesday morning, the defense had presented 14 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.
During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Nikolas Cruz’s mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15 to kill.
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 team has over 80 witnesses, according to McNeill.
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.
LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances
Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to a harsher penalty. The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty focuses on evidence to support this.
Mitigating: Lessens the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team that is working to save Cruz’s life is presenting evidence to support this.
“It’s a little less of a burden to prove the mitigating factors than the aggravating factors,” Bresky said.