Nikolas Cruz sentencing latest: Parkland shooter’s sister brought out of jail to testify at his trial

Son of Parkland shooting victim gives heartbreaking impact statement at trial

The defence for Nikolas Cruz, the man convicted of shooting dead 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on 14 February 2018, began its case at his sentencing trial on Monday.

Jurors heard from Cruz’s sister Danielle Woodard who entered the court in handcuffs and flanked by law enforcement after being allowed to leave jail to testify in her brother’s defence.

Woodard said her brother was “polluted” in the womb by their shared biological mother who was an alcoholic and drug addict.

Cruz’s defence is seeking to show that foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and a troubled upbringing contributed to his actions when he embarked on one of the deadliest school massacres in US history back on Valentine’s Day 2018.

In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Jurors will now decide if he is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Key points

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Who is Danielle Woodard?

Danielle Woodard shares the same biological mother as Cruz – Brenda Woodard – but they did not grow up together as Cruz was adopted as a baby by Lynda and Roger Cruz.

Woodard has a lengthy rap sheet and is currently behind bars in Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami while awaiting charges over an alleged carjacking.

On 6 January 2020, a 72-year-old woman was dropping off a donation to a Goodwill store in Miami when Woodard allegedly jumped into the driver’s seat of the woman’s car.

Police said that the victim tried to get into the car on the passenger seat to try to stop Woodard.

The victim was flung from the moving car and injured in the incident, police said.

Woodard then allegedly crashed the car and tried to flee the scene, but was arrested on felony carjacking and aggravated battery charges.

She is facing a mandatory life sentence on the charges.

On Monday, she testified as a witness for the defence in Cruz’s sentencing trial.

Rachel Sharp23 August 2022 03:00


Remembering the victims

Seventeen people were killed in the Parkland massacre back on Valentine’s Day 2018.

The 14 students killed were: Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang.

The three adults killed were: Scott Beigel, Chris Hixon and Aaron Feis.

Rachel Sharp23 August 2022 02:00


Missed warning signs, failings, and lessons learned: What happened at Parkland

Almost 70 documented incidents of violence by age 19. Boasts online of being “the next school shooter”. Tips about threatening behaviour ignored by the FBI. Unlocked and unmanned gates at the school. Students and staff left to wander hallways while no active shooter alert was made. A school resource officer who hid from the gunfire for more than 45 minutes.

Nearly everything that could have gone wrong that day did.

It was Valentine’s Day 2018 and students and staff had gone to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for the day’s classes as normal.

Some teenagers in the throes of young love had taken in flowers and cards to give to their crushes. Then, that afternoon, everything changed.

At around 2.19pm, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz took an Uber to the school carrying an AR-15 and a bag full of hundreds of rounds of ammunition and opened fire on his students and staff members.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, launched in the aftermath to investigate both the shooting and the response to it, found that there were catastrophic errors in the response to Cruz’s actions that day.

Ahead of the day itself, a whole host of disturbing warning signs had also been ignored about what Cruz would go on to do.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

Rachel Sharp23 August 2022 01:00


A timeline of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Nikolas Cruz, the man convicted of shooting dead 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on 14 February 2018, is now facing a sentencing trial for his crimes.

Cruz – a former student at the institution who was a member of its air rifle team and had a lengthy disciplinary record – was just 19 when he arrived that day in an Uber bearing a legally-purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and gunned down 14 students and three members of staff in what proved to be one of the deadliest school massacres in American history.

He was arrested later that day by police and pleaded guilty to 17 charges of first-degree murder and 17 of attempted murder, his actions sparking a nationwide protest movement demanding tighter gun control measures and an unsavoury political debate in which survivors of the attack including David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez were accused of being paid “crisis actors” by conspiracy-minded members of the right-wing commentariat.

Read a timeline of the massacre and the case here:

Rachel Sharp23 August 2022 00:30


Cruz’s team says his brain is ‘irretrievably broken’

Nikolas Cruz’s defence team said that his brain is “irretrievably broken” because of his biological mother’s drinking and drug-taking while pregnant, as they urged jurors not to sentence the Parkland mass shooter to death.

Attorneys for Cruz delivered opening statements in his defence on Monday morning, as they began their case at his sentencing trial in Broward County, Florida.

Lead public defender Melissa McNeill acknowledged that “there is no defence for this crime” and that Cruz is the “one person responsible for all the pain and suffering” caused by the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.

But, while it was him who “viciously murdered 17 people”, Ms McNeill said that the “choices” he made that day all began with the “choices” made by his biological mother Brenda Woodard when she “poisoned him in the womb”.

“His brain is broken. He is a damaged human being,” she said.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

Rachel Sharp23 August 2022 00:00


Cruz has been in contact with Sandy Hook victim’s mother, says defence

Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz has been in contact with the mother of a Sandy Hook victim, the defence has told his sentencing trial.

Public defender Melissa McNeill said during her opening statement that Cruz had been in touch with Scarlett Lewis. Her son Jesse, 6, was killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on 14 December 2012, when 20 children and six staff members were murdered.

“You will hear that he talks and has video visitations with a woman by the name of Scarlett Lewis whose six-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was murdered in Sandy Hook,” Ms McNeill told the jury in the defence’s opening statement.

“And you will hear through those conversations that together, her and Nick are trying to find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The Independent’s Gustaf Kilander has the full story:

Rachel Sharp22 August 2022 23:30


Nikolas Cruz’s sister says brother came from ‘polluted womb’

Nikolas Cruz’s sister told his sentencing trial that he came from the “polluted womb” of their mother who put her addiction to drugs and alcohol “before anything else”.

Danielle Woodard was the second witness to testify for the defence on Monday as Cruz’s legal team seek to argue that he suffers from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and other anti-social behavioural disorders caused in part by his mother drinking and taking drugs while pregnant.

The mass killer’s older sister was led into court in handcuffs flanked by law enforcement officers as she awaits trial over an alleged carjacking of an elderly woman.

Woodard shares the same biological mother as Cruz – Brenda Woodard – but they did not grow up together as Cruz was adopted as a baby by Lynda and Roger Cruz while Woodard lived on and off with their mother.

She testified that her brother was born from their mother’s “polluted womb”, telling jurors that she saw her mother smoke cigarettes, drink and smoke crack while pregnant with him.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

Rachel Sharp22 August 2022 23:00


Court rests for the day

The court has rested for the day.

Jurors were told to return to the court for the trial resuming at 9am ET on Tuesday.

Rachel Sharp22 August 2022 22:22


Educator says she didn’t believe Cruz had autism

Special education teacher Susan Hendler Luber said that she didn’t believe Nikolas Cruz had autism when she worked with him back in around 2003.

Under cross-examination, Ms Hendler Luber said that she “didn’t see” his “fantasy behaviours” as an indicator of autism.

She told the court that she has a lengthy experience of working with children with autism from 1993 to 2016.

Rachel Sharp22 August 2022 22:17


Educator describes his aggression from a young age

Special education teacher Ms Hendler Luber detailed how Nikolas Cruz showed aggression from a very young age.

The educator testified that she spent intervention time with a four-year-old Cruz to support him in restraining his aggressive behaviours.

“He pushed children if they got too close to him, he would pace the classroom to avoid interaction with other children, he would push over furniture,” she said.

Ms Hendler Luber said he also “scratched” other children and, if they got too close to him, he would “pounce”.

He also displayed “animal fantasy behaviours” she said.

Rachel Sharp22 August 2022 21:43

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