Parkland school shooter’s defense calls ex-neighbor who wants to make movie, 2 deputies to testify

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listened to the testimony of a former neighbor and two deputies during his trial’s death penalty phase on Wednesday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.

Nikolas Cruz’s defense attorneys called Paul Gold, who used to live in a house next door to Cruz’s family home in Parkland. He said he decided to stop contact with Cruz’s adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, after his friend’s iPad was stolen.

“The first time I met him, I knew he needed some serious help,” Gold said about Nikolas Cruz.

Gold said he was with Nicholas and Zachary Cruz during Lynda Cruz’s funeral in 2017. Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus questioned Gold’s motivation for staying in touch with Nicholas Cruz while at Broward County’s main jail.

“On two occasions, you were trying to entice him to make a movie about his life,” Marcus said referring to records of jail calls. “You want to make a movie about Nikolas Cruz and make money. Correct?”

Gold said he just wanted to get “to the truth,” so Marcus asked if exploiting the “brutal murders to make money” was wrong.

“Any exploitation would be terrible,” Gold said.

Paul Gold testified on Wednesday in Broward County court. He was a former neighbor of Nikolas Cruz in Parkland.

The defense also called two Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to Cruz’s home after Lynda Cruz called 911 to ask for help with Nikolas and Zachary Cruz when she had lost control and was afraid.

Sgt. James Snell said he responded to a domestic disturbance on Sept. 26, 2011, at Cruz’s home.

BSP Sgt. James Snell testified on Wednesday in Broward County court. He responded to a domestic disturbance call at Nikolas Cruz’s home in Parkland.

Deputy Gary Michalosky responded to Cruz’s home several times including on Aug. 19, 2012, and Jan. 15, 2013.

Michalosky said during the call in 2013 Cruz had barricaded himself in his room after Lynda Cruz hid his Xbox video game console in the trunk of her car. He said the distraught mother told him she had reached out to Henderson Mental Health Center.

Michalosky said it was clear to him the single mother was “in over her head.”

BSO Deputy Gary Michalosky testified on Wednesday in Broward County court. He responded to domestic disturbance calls at Nikolas Cruz’s home in Parkland.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Nikolas Cruz being “damaged.”

The defense has presented 19 witnesses in seven days, 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. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that 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.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the court was in recess until 9 a.m. on Thursday.

LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances

Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to harsher punishment. 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.

Source: Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

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