WATCH LIVE: Parkland school shooter’s defense calls witnesses asserting mother used alcohol and drugs while pregnant

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, who leads the team that is working to save the Parkland school shooter’s life, delivered her opening statement on Monday and started to call witnesses.

McNeill said Nikolas Cruz’s biological mother, Brenda Woodard, used alcohol and drugs while pregnant and his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, whose mother abandoned her, was overwhelmed.

McNeill said Cruz suffered from developmental delays and saw his first psychologist when he was three years old and started psychiatric treatment when he was six years old.

“His brain was irretrievably broken to no fault of his own,” McNeill said.

McNeill asked the jury to consider the mitigating circumstances, the factors that lessen Cruz’s culpability. McNeill said the defense’s job is to tell the jurors who Cruz is and why the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment.

“A vote for life is the right vote,” McNeill said asking the jury for compassion, grace, and mercy.

McNeill said there were concerns about Cruz’s presence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where he “struggled,” started “cutting himself” and even “drank gasoline” before the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre.

“Wounded and damaged people, wound and damage other people because they are in pain, but we don’t excuse the horrific acts of damaged and wounded people, we punish them, but we take into consideration their damage when we impose sentence,” McNeill said.


Carolyn Deakins, left, and Danielle Woodard, right, testified on Monday in Broward County court. They both said Brenda Woodard used drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant with Nikolas Cruz.

Carolyn Deakins, who was friends with Woodard, was the defense’s first witness. She said Woodard was gay and the two met while working in prostitution in the 90s along U.S. 1 in Broward County. She also said Woodard was an alcoholic and an addict who continued drinking and using while pregnant.

“Brenda went into the bathroom and she got sick and I thought she was drug sick … ‘Here, take this piece of crack,’ is exactly what I said to her, and she said, ‘No, it ain’t drugs. I am pregnant,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Deakins said.

The second witness was Danielle Woodard, a convicted felon and Nikolas Cruz’s older biological sister. She was in handcuffs because she remains in custody at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade County, as she awaits trial for a robbery, carjacking, and aggravated assault in January 2020.

Danielle Woodard said she lived with Brenda Woodard when Cruz was “developing in her polluted womb” and she was going into sixth grade. She said her mother told her she was pregnant and had been raped. She also described how she used her to cheat on drug tests.

“Brenda definitely had a drug problem … crack cocaine … major problem with alcohol,” Danielle Woodard said adding she also smoked, “like a chimney.”

Daniella Woodard said she held Nikolas Cruz until Brenda Woodard asked that she leave because she had asked if they “could keep him.” She described Brenda Woodard as a “horrible” mother who “introduced” her to “a life that no child should ever be introduced to.”

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence, so Cruz is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October.

Prosecutors rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 injured on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the court was in recess until 2:15 p.m.

Watch the 12 p.m. report

“A vote for life is the right vote,” Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill said asking the jury for compassion, grace and mercy.


Last week, Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled that two high profile defense witnesses must answer prosecutors’ questions.

Cruz’s brother, Zachary Cruz, and Zachary Cruz’s roommate, Richard Moore, didn’t believe some of the questions asked from them by prosecutors were appropriate. But the judge overseeing the Parkland shooter’s trial disagreed.

Zachary Cruz and Moore’s motion stated, “The majority of the information the State seeks, touches intimately on the home, marital, and family life of the Deponents. The information further is tied to perceived political activities, political views, and membership or participation in certain protest movements and activist groups.”

Attorney Amina Matheny-Willard spoke on their behalf last Thursday and brought up Zachary Cruz’s 2018 arrest for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas a month after the shooting before telling Scherer: “We feel like this is continued harassment by Broward County and we feel like it is tantamount to witness tampering.”

Scherer: “You are saying that there is continued harassment that would warrant the Florida Department of Law Enforcement getting involved?

Matheny-Willard: “Absolutely”

Scherer: “That is a big accusation, which if you feel that is the case then you, ma’am, by all means, should be contacting the police yourself.”

[RELATED: Details emerge about criminal histories of Cruz’s biological family]

Scherer ruled that Zachary Cruz and Moore will answer all questions in the deposition despite Matheny-Willard’s argument against some of the queries.

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