Nikolas Cruz: Parkland shooter's brother and sister to testify about 'deeply disturbing' childhood

Nikolas Cruz: Parkland shooter's brother and sister to testify about 'deeply disturbing' childhood
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s siblings Zachary Cruz, 22, and Danielle Woodard, 35, are expected to testify on his behalf at his sentencing trial (Amy Beth Bennett-Pool/Getty Images/ Miami-Dade Corrections, Broward)

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: Nikolas Cruz's brother and sister are scheduled to testify on his behalf this week when the gunman's defense attorneys present their case at his sentencing trial. Cruz's attorneys will argue that his deeply disturbed childhood merits mercy and will ask jurors in Florida to sentence him to life in prison rather than death. 

Danielle Woodard, 35, his half-sister, and his brother, Zachary Cruz, 22, will present their sibling's circumstances while he was growing up. Woodard, who shares Cruz's birth mother, is currently in prison facing charges for allegedly kidnapping a 72-year-old woman in Broward County in 2020, and will be transferred from jail to testify. She has a lengthy criminal record and has spent time in prison since she was a child.

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While their mother placed Cruz for adoption when he was a baby, Woodard is expected to tell jurors about her drug and alcohol abuse while pregnant with him. Cruz's brother, who was sentenced to six months probation after the murders for trespassing at the shooting site, is expected to answer questions about his brother's early life. 

The defense team will emphasize several traumas Nikolas Cruz experienced as a child, including his mother's cocaine and alcohol use while pregnant, his alleged sexual abuse by an undiscovered "peer," and the death of his adoptive father at the age of five. Cruz's attorneys will also bring up his severe mental health issues, bullying at school, and the death of his adoptive mother months before the February 14, 2018 massacre.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz holds his head during the penalty phase of his trial on August 1, 2022 at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Nikolas Cruz holds his head during the penalty phase of his trial on August 1, 2022 at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder  (Amy Beth Bennett-Pool/Getty Images)

Cruz, then 19, began firing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 14 students and three staff members in one of the country's worst mass shootings. He admitted to 17 counts of first-degree murder. The penalty trial for Cruz began on Monday, July 18. The defense postponed their opening statement at the start of the trial and will make it as early as Monday, August 22.

Prosecutors presented Cruz's crimes in gruesome detail, with jurors watching bloodshed footage and touring the fenced-in crime scene. From a video recorded by students, jurors and the courtroom audience heard the screams of victims shot during the Valentine's Day massacre. Lead prosecutor Michael J Satz's opening remarks marked the start of the penalty phase of Cruz's criminal trial. Prosecutors have asked a panel of 12 jurors to sentence Cruz to death, while his defense attorneys have asked for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Relatives and friends of those killed have given heartbreaking testimony about their ordeal, causing Cruz's lawyers to cry at times.

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