FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter listened to the testimony of a former neighbor and two deputies during his trial’s death penalty phase on Wednesday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.
Capital defense attorney Casey Secor called Paul Gold, who lived in a house next door to Cruz’s family home in Parkland from 2008 to 2011. He said Lynda Cruz, told him she was scared of her son Nikolas Cruz and warned him not to allow his “angelic” appearance to fool him. Gold said Cruz’s adoptive mother padlocked the refrigerator and sometimes her sons “were going hungry.”
Gold said that after one of Cruz’s dogs died of toad poisoning he went on a “killing spree” to get rid of tods in the neighborhood. He also said Zachary Cruz had a problem with shoplifting and he had a disagreement with Lynda Cruz over her parenting style when his friend’s iPad vanished in 2012 and he suspected Zachary, who regularly bullied his brother, took it.
“The first time I met [Nikolas Cruz], I knew he needed some serious help,” Gold said adding he had such a “short fuse” that the consequences of his outbursts were visible throughout their home. “The walls there were punched. Doors there were broken.”
Gold said Nicholas Cruz was “obsessive” and he was “extremely distraught” during Lynda Cruz’s funeral in December 2017. Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus questioned Gold’s motivation for staying in touch with Cruz while at Broward County’s main jail.
Gold’s tone during one of the jail calls was that of excitement. He mentioned Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the late Stan Lee.
“You want to make a movie about Nikolas Cruz and make money,” Marcus told Gold. “Correct?”
Gold, who admitted to owning a production company, said he just wanted to get “to the facts,” so Marcus asked if exploiting the “brutal murders” in Parkland to make “money” was wrong.
“Any exploitation would be terrible,” Gold said.
In an attempt to salvage his witness’s credibility, Secor asked Gold to talk about his contributions to Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization that claims to rescue victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. Gold said he donated to the cause and met one of the victims rescued.
Secor also asked for his opinion on whether or not Cruz should have been allowed to have a gun.
“No weapons. I mean, he would lose his temper,” Gold said.
Cruz’s temper often prompted Lynda Cruz to call 911 for help. The defense called two Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to intervene when she reported she had lost control and was afraid of Nikolas or Zachary Cruz.
Sgt. James Snell said he responded to a domestic disturbance on Sept. 26, 2011, at Cruz’s six-bedroom home at 6166 NW 80 Terr., in Parkland. Snell said he was a patrol deputy when dispatch received a call from Lynda Cruz who reported her “violent” son was “throwing items.”
Snell said he did not consider Cruz to be a threat and told Lynda Cruz that this was not a matter for BSO.
“He was very young at the time she called,” Snell said about Cruz. “He seemed a little detached ... he didn’t seem to really comprehend ... distracted, I guess.”
Deputy Gary Michalosky said he responded to Cruz’s home several times — mostly for Cruz’s brother Zachary. He said he saw a couple of holes on the wall that appeared to be from “someone taking out their anger.”
Michalosky said during a call in 2013 Cruz had barricaded himself in his room. Lynda Cruz told him she had hidden his Xbox video game console in the trunk of her car as a consequence of Cruz’s decision not to go to school.
“She was upset ... watching her son basically getting upset and started throwing things around the house,” Michalosky said adding it was clear to him the single mother was “in over her head.”
Michalosky said he handcuffed Cruz and walked him to his patrol car to have a one-on-one talk. He said Cruz wasn’t injured and he didn’t show him any emotions as they waited for the Henderson Mental Health Center’s youth emergency services.
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.”
The defense has presented 19 witnesses in seven days, 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 ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.
During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that 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, according to McNeill.
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 Thursday.
Watch the 4 p.m. report
Watch the 5 p.m. report
LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances
Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to harsher punishment. 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.
- Mitigation specialist: A member of the defense team whose task is to persuade a jury not to impose the death penalty.