Former prosecutor: Cruz’s biological mother’s drug use and genetic makeup may be a factor in sentencing

This undated photo made available by Florida Department of Corrections shows Brenda Woodward under arrest. The extensive criminal and drug abuse history of Woodward, Parkland school suspect Nikolas Cruz's biological mother, could be a key factor in whether he is sentenced to die for the massacre that killed 17 people, legal experts and officials say. Woodard, 62, played no role in Cruz's upbringing after giving him up for adoption after he was born. ( Florida Department of Corrections via AP)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) 09/05 — The extensive criminal and drug abuse history of Parkland school suspect Nikolas Cruz’s biological mother could be a key factor in whether he is sentenced to die for the massacre that killed 17 people, legal experts and officials say.

The mother, 62-year-old Brenda Woodard, played no role in Cruz’s upbringing after giving him up for adoption after he was born. But her past, which included a crack cocaine purchase arrest while she was pregnant with Cruz, will almost certainly be brought up for a jury considering whether he should live or die.

“It is not necessarily her past, but how her past contributed to his genetic makeup,” said David S. Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice. “Her use of drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant with him, and how her genetic makeup was passed on to him.”

“It might not carry the day, but it will give the jurors another mitigating factor to consider,” he added.

The identity of Woodard, first reported Wednesday by the Miami Herald, was confirmed to the Associated Press by a person close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing prosecution.

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.”

Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His lawyers say he will plead guilty if spared the death penalty, but prosecutors have refused that offer.

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein declined Wednesday to discuss how Woodard’s past might become part of the case. But he repeated that Cruz is ready to end it now.

“Lock him up forever. Throw away the key and never speak his name,” Finkelstein said in an email. “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.”

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.

Cruz and his brother, Zachary, were both adopted by Roger and Lynda Cruz soon after Woodard gave birth to them. Roger Cruz died when Nikolas Cruz was a young child and Lynda Cruz died last November, just a few months before the Parkland shooting.

Nikolas Cruz had numerous behavioral and learning problems throughout his life, along with a fascination with guns and his own problems with alcohol and drug abuse.

Court and prison records show that Woodard was arrested more than two dozen times from the 1980s through the 2000s for crimes including drug offenses, car theft, weapons possession, burglary, domestic violence and battery charges. She served a variety of prison sentences over those decades, including one 18-month stretch for car theft and fleeing from a law enforcement officer.

Woodard was charged in 2010 with using a tire iron to beat someone she shared an apartment with in a senior living complex. Her last arrest was in 2011, records show. Woodard did not immediately respond Wednesday to a message left on her cellphone.

Cruz’s half-sister and Woodard’s daughter, Danielle Woodard, has had her own extensive brushes with the law and is currently imprisoned as a habitual offender, Corrections Department records show.

Her most recent convictions include attempted second-degree murder, cocaine possession, battery on and fleeing from a law enforcement officer and credit card fraud. She is scheduled for release in 2020.


Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Sunrise, Florida, contributed to this story.’s-past-a-factor-in-school-shooting

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Courts & Trials, Crime & Criminals, Death Penalty, Deaths, Drugs/Drug Trafficking, Homicide, Injuries, Mass Casualty Attacks, Mental Illness, Murder/Attempted Murder, Prosecutors, School Shootings, Sentencing, Victims of Crime

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen + twenty =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.