Parkland school shooter’s teacher, family friend, speech pathologist testify

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter met his third-grade teacher, an expert witness, and watched a video recording of a family friend’s deposition on Monday in Broward County court.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter met his third-grade teacher, an expert witness, and watched a video recording of a family friend’s deposition on Monday in Broward County court.

Shameka Stanford, the speech and language pathologist, said she works in the field of criminology and started to review academic records, his confession, and calls for the defense starting in 2019.

Stanford said Nikolas Cruz suffers from a moderate to severe language disorder. She said prenatal exposure to alcohol can affect areas of the brain. At eight, she said, he presented a two-year delay.

“Behaviorally there was a lot of overt physical behavior that was just the default,” Stanford said adding these included “pulling his hair” and “banging his head.”

Shameka Stanford, a speech and language pathologist in the field of criminology, testifies on Monday in Broward County court. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

As of Monday afternoon, the defense had presented 14 witnesses, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering addict who was arrested with his biological mother for cocaine possession when she was pregnant with Cruz. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.” Attorney Robin Bresky, who is not involved in the case, but has been following it on Local 10 News, said the defense was trying to “humanize” Cruz and “make him as sympathetic as possible.”

“I think it’s going to tie into the fetal alcohol syndrome,” Bresky said about the defense’s purpose for Stanford’s expert testimony.

Finai Browd answers a defense attorney's questions on July 14, 2022, about her friendship with Lynda Cruz in New York and Florida. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

The family friend was Finai Browd, who said she met Lynda Cruz, the shooter’s adoptive mother, while they worked together in New York and the two remained friends when they both moved to Florida.

“She really wanted to be a mom,” Browd said by way of a July 14 deposition recorded on Zoom.

Browd said Nikolas Cruz was a very problematic boy who had trouble communicating and had regular tantrums. She said Lynda Cruz told her Nikolas witnessed when his adoptive father Roger Cruz died in 2004 and she helped her set up his funeral. Browd said her husband tried to teach Nikolas Cruz how to ride a bicycle, but he “couldn’t get the balancing.”

Browd also said her two adopted children spent a lot of time playing with Lynda Cruz’s boys.

A family friend shows a picture of the late Lynda Cruz kissing Nikolas Cruz. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Nikolas Cruz engaged in “inappropriate touching with my daughter,” Browd said.

Browd said Lynda Cruz started to become secretive and was spending a lot of time with her neighbor and decided to take Browd’s name off her bank accounts after a case of identity fraud which hurt her feelings.

“She was not the same Lynda,” Browd said later adding, “Our friendship unraveled.”

Lynne Rodriguez, a veteran Broward special education teacher who was Cruz’s third-grade teacher, was the first witness on the stand on Monday. She described Cruz as having issues with communication.

“He could be cursing and angry and throwing things ... sometimes he would rip up other students’ work,” Rodriguez said adding his behavior was both “disruptive and aggressive” and included “yelling” and “cursing.”

Lynne Rodriguez testifies in Broward County court on Monday during the Parkland school shooter's death penalty phase in Fort Lauderdale. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Nikolas Cruz’s mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15 to kill.

In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Cruz rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured and the loved ones of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements. The defense team has over 80 witnesses.

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous jury vote, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the court was in recess until 9 a.m., on Tuesday.

LEGAL TERMS: Factors or circumstances

Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to a harsher penalty. The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty focuses on evidence to support this.

Mitigating: Lessens the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team that is working to save Cruz’s life is presenting evidence to support this.

“It’s a little less of a burden to prove the mitigating factors than the aggravating factors,” Bresky said.

Source: Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

Watch the 4 p.m. report

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter met his third-grade teacher, an expert witness, and watched a video recording of a family friend’s deposition on Monday in Broward County court.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter met his third-grade teacher, an expert witness, and watched a video recording of a family friend’s deposition on Monday in Broward County court.

Interactive graphic


About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.