The criminal history of the Parkland school shooting suspect’s biological mother could be a key factor in whether he is sentenced to death for the massacre that left 17 people dead, a report stated.
Brenda Woodard, 62, who played no role in Nikolas Cruz’s upbringing after giving him up for adoption after he was born, was identified by the Miami Herald as his birth mother.
The media outlet reported Woodard had been arrested 28 times and struggled with addiction. She was arrested when she was pregnant with Cruz after purchasing crack cocaine.
The Herald reported her past will almost certainly be brought up before a jury considering whether he should live or die. Woodard declined to speak to the Herald regarding the article.
Cruz’s half-sister, Danielle Woodard, 31, is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence on “charges including the second-degree attempted murder of a police officer,” the Herald reported. She was charged twice for bringing weapons to school and was previously arrested 17 times. She is scheduled for release in 2020.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein confirmed the identity of Cruz’s birth mother and half-sister to Fox News.
“Out of respect for the families we do not want to comment at this time. This is an awful case and there is more awfulness yet to come,” Finkelstein told Fox News. “It is why we believe it is in the best interest of the families and the community to end this case immediately with a guilty plea to 34 consecutive life sentences and avoid the additional pain and hurt that will come if we take the two decade march toward the death penalty. Lock him up forever. Throw away the key and never speak his name."
Criminal law experts said it was possible the Broward Public Defender’s Office would probe Cruz’s “genetic makeup” and his birth mother may be called to testify during the sentencing phase.
“Of course, this would be of interest to me,” Bennett Brummer, a retired public defender, said. “The question would be how would I use it."
David S. Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice told the Associated Press: "It is not necessarily her past, but how her past contributed to his genetic makeup.
"Her use of drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant with him, and how her genetic makeup was passed on to him."
The American Bar Association guidelines for defense lawyers in death penalty cases say they should closely examine all the defendant's past family, going back at least three generations.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of a state commission investigating the shooting separate from the prosecution, said Wednesday that all of Cruz's background is relevant.
"If information has come to light about his biological mother and there is some relevance there, of course we will take a look at it," Gualtieri said. "We are looking heavily at his background and his whole life."
The suspect’s younger brother, Zachary, who was also adopted by Lynda Cruz, declined to speak to the Miami Herald regarding the story. He and his brother Nikolas share the same biological mother, Finkelstein confirmed to Fox News. His caretaker, Mike Donovan, CEO of Nexus Services, told Fox News that Zachary “is proof positive that genetics do not dictate one path in life.”
Donovan offered to provide Zachary housing and a job in Virginia as part of a probation agreement a Broward County judge agreed to when Zachary was arrested for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the shooting in March. He was also arrested in April for violating his probation and driving without a valid license. In June, Zachary launched an anti-bullying initiative “We Isolate No One.”
“The Miami Herald contacted Zach for comment regarding this story. Zach decided to not participate in the interview about the matter. We assume the Herald’s reporting is correct, but we aren’t able to independently confirm her identity,” Donovan told Fox News.
“Any information about Nikolas Cruz is probably helpful in the community quest for information and understanding. That being said, Zachary is proof positive that genetics do not dictate one path in life. In fact, Zachary is an inspiration to anyone who has suffered much and overcome challenges,” he continued.
“I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to have your personal life play out in the national media. However, Zachary Cruz is an incredibly strong, resilient young man and he has a strong family support system in Virginia now to see him through it. Zach is obviously processing this information as it is being shared with the public, and this would be difficult for anyone… especially a teenager. However, he does have a strong family support system in Virginia to see him through it,” the statement continued.
Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the school. His lawyers said he will plead guilty if spared the death penalty, but prosecutors have refused that offer. If the case goes to the death penalty phase, all 12 jurors must agree on capital punishment or Cruz will get an automatic life prison sentence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.