Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz’s biological mother had a rough past, full of criminal activity and drug abuse. And while she didn’t raise him, her history could help determine whether or not Cruz is sentenced to death over his brutal massacre that took the lives of 17 of his classmates, according to reports.
Brenda Woodard, 62, whose identity the Miami Herald first reported on Wednesday, has been arrested 28 times in her life—one of which was over her beating someone with a tire iron. The Herald also notes that she was occasionally homeless, and was at one point arrested for buying crack cocaine while she was pregnant with Cruz; additionally, public records chronicle a life marred by criminality.
"It is not necessarily her past, but how her past contributed to his genetic makeup," David S. Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice, told the Associated Press, which independently confirmed Woodard’s relation to Cruz. "Her use of drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant with him, and how her genetic makeup was passed on to him.”
For death penalty cases such as Cruz’s, the American Bar Association guidelines advise defense lawyers that “preparation requires extensive and generally unparalleled investigation into personal and family history.”
And while Cruz only shares genetic material with Woodard, authorities assert that this kind of background information could be very important once the teen goes to trial. The 19-year-old is charged with 17 counts of murder along with 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"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," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of a Florida state body that’s investigating the shooting independently of the prosecution, told AP on Wednesday. "We are looking heavily at his background and his whole life."
Even though Lynda Cruz, Nikolas’ adoptive mother, was able to provide him and his 17-year-old younger brother, Zachary, who was also birthded by Woodard, with a comfortable suburban adolescence inside the family’s five-bedroom home in Parkland, Florida, the teen’s past was defined by violent temper tantrums, animal torture, and a concerning fascination with guns, according to the Herald. He was also bullied by his brother, and watched his father die.
Meanwhile, Zachary was involuntarily committed to a mental institution following the shooting, according to the New York Post. His older half-sister, Danielle Woodard, is serving an eight-year prison sentence; the two have never met.
Cruz’s lawyers say that he will take a guilty plea if the death penalty gets eliminated as an option; the prosecution has not accepted such an offer at this point.
While he wouldn’t talk about his birth mother’s criminal past or how it might relate to Cruz’s case, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told AP that Cruz is prepared to accept (nonlethal) punishment the horrific misdeeds he is accused of.
“Lock him up forever. Throw away the key and never speak his name,” Finkelstein said. “Maybe it will curtail some of the pain and hurt that certainly will happen if this case continues on a decades-long march to death.”
Oxygen.com's attempts to reach Brenda Woodard via phone were unsuccessful.
[Photo Credits: Florida Department of Corrections, Broward County Sheriff's Office]