By TERRY SPENCER Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lawyers for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz began arguing Monday that his birth mother’s alcohol abuse left him with serious behavioral issues that eventually led to his 2018 murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. .
Paul Connor, a Seattle-area neuropsychologist, said medical records and previous witness testimony show that Brenda Woodard drank and used cocaine for much of her pregnancy before Cruz was born in 1998. Woodard , a prostitute from Fort Lauderdale, gave up the baby immediately afterwards for her adoptive parents, Lynda and Roger Cruz. Woodard passed away last year.
Connor, testifying via Zoom, told jurors that people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder exhibit problems with motor skills, impulse control, socialization and attention at a young age — problems that testimonies previous defenses had shown Cruz.
Cruz’s preschool teachers testified that he couldn’t run without falling or using utensils. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a young child and teachers testified that he was extremely anxious and had trouble making friends.
At age 5, tests showed Cruz had impairments in 10 intellectual categories, including memory, reasoning, language and impulsivity, Connor said. Court records and earlier testimony showed that he would have frequent outbursts in class and at home. In college, he made threats.
Connor said he measured Cruz’s IQ at 83, which he says matches the slightly below average intelligence that many people with fetal alcohol issues often achieve. He said IQ tests conducted throughout Cruz’s life have found similar results, including one conducted recently by a prosecution expert.
Under cross-examination by senior prosecutor Mike Satz, Connor acknowledged that he was not certified in his field, but said such certification was voluntary and only a state license was required to practice. He also admitted that he almost always testifies on behalf of the defense in fetal alcohol cases, not prosecutors. He will continue his testimony on Tuesday.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murdering 14 students and three staff and injuring 17 others while stalking a three-story classroom with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle -15 on Valentine’s Day 2018. His trial is all about deciding whether the former Stoneman Douglas student is sentenced to death or life without parole. For the jury of seven men and five women to issue a death sentence, the vote must be unanimous.
Satz completed his primary case last month. He released security footage of the shooting and showed the rifle used by Cruz. Teachers and students testified that they watched others die. He showed graphic autopsy and crime scene photos and led jurors into the fenced building, which remains bloodstained and riddled with bullet holes. Parents and spouses have made tearful and angry statements about their loss.
In an attempt to counter this, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill and her team have made Cruz’s story the centerpiece of their case, hoping that at least one juror will vote for life.
Once the defense concludes its case in the coming weeks, the prosecution will present a rebuttal brief before the start of jury deliberations.