During the opening testimony and statements, the defence called the first witnesses to stand and placed much of the blame for his troubled start in life squarely on Brenda Woodard, his biological mother’s shoulders.
The defense attorney for Melisa McNeill informed the jury that there is no evidence suggesting that she is responsible for this crime. The attorney argued that Cruz Woodard, the person in question, is solely responsible for all the suffering and pain. It was alleged that Woodard’s choices, specifically the ones made in the womb when she poisoned him, led to the events that occurred on February 14, 2018.
Witnesses and official records have revealed that Woodard consumed excessive quantities of alcohol and participated in substance misuse during her pregnancy with Cruz.
Ms McNeill informed the court that Cruz developed foetal alcohol spectrum disorder due to his mother’s consumption of alcohol and drug use.
“His mind is shattered. He is a wounded individual,” stated the lawyer.
“His prenatal supplements included… Cheap alcohol, illicit drugs, and tobacco. As a result, his mind is permanently damaged.”
She stated, “When she relinquished her child, she was homeless, engaged in substance abuse, and involved in prostitution.”
Cruz’s birth mother had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, dating back to the 1980s and involving sheet rap.
Danielle Woodard, a childhood friend of her mother, had three children. As an infant, Cruz was adopted by Roger and Lynda Cruz. Furthermore, his biological brother was raised by the Cruz family alongside Zachary, who was also adopted.
When she got pregnant with Cruz, Woodard was homeless, battling with alcoholism and substance abuse, and working as a prostitute.
She will not be giving evidence at her son’s trial. She passed away from cancer last year at the age of 65.
Danielle gave evidence at Cruz’s trial on 22 August where she confessed that she “despised” her mother.
She informed the court that she was placed in foster care at the age of 12 and experienced intermittent periods of living with Woodard.
In 1998, when her mother collected her in her vehicle in Fort Lauderdale and she noticed her pregnant belly, she remembered the instance she discovered her mother was expecting Cruz.
Danielle testified, “She took another sip of wine, turned up the radio, and said, ‘I got raped,’ and she looked at me.”
“Nikolas was growing in her contaminated uterus,” she stated.
Brenda, who passed multiple drug tests to maintain her probation, also shared her experiences with her mother, including times when she associated with other individuals who smuggled clean urine. She even fraternized with what she referred to as “junkies.”
Allegedly, Danielle’s mother forced her to strip naked in order to search for concealed drug money for her grandmother.
With Cruz anticipating a child, Woodard observed the impact of drugs and alcoholic drinks on Danielle. Furthermore, Carolyn Deakins, another defense witness, also gave testimony.
They joined forces to consume substances such as crack cocaine and indulge in alcohol during their time as sex workers in the early 90s. Ms. Deakins mentioned that her initial encounter with Ms. Woodard occurred during this period.
According to her, her former friend had no concern for anything except her addictions. She claimed that she witnessed Ms. Woodard persist in using drugs, consuming alcohol, and smoking during her pregnancy.
“Substances, alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes… Anything she could obtain,” she stated.
Ms Deakins was Woodard’s co-defendant during one of her numerous arrests.
Cruz was born on 24 September 1998, three months prior to the arrest of the two women who were apprehended together for crack cocaine possession on 6 June 1998.
According to court and prison records, Woodard was arrested over twenty times in total, with charges including burglary and weapon possession, car theft, drug offenses, and domestic violence, spanning from the 1980s to the 2000s.
She was in and out of prison multiple times including one 18-month sentence for car theft and fleeing from a police officer.
In 2010, she was subsequently accused of assaulting someone with a tire iron.
Danielle gave evidence regarding the influence her mother had on her personal life.
“In many ways, she simply exposed me to a life that no child should ever be exposed to,” Danielle said.
She is currently awaiting trial on carjacking charges, being an elderly woman. She has been convicted of 16 felonies and has spent multiple times in prison, as she informed the court herself.
When questioned about Woodard’s maternal abilities, she smirked and then became quiet. Eventually, she simply described it as “awful”.
However, as pointed out by prosecutors, while Danielle grew up alongside Woodard, Cruz did not.
Lynda and Roger adopted both boys, Cruz and his biological brother Zachary, in 1998 after they were given up by Woodard. They have been raising them together.
According to Ms. McNeill, who stated that he was later provided with psychiatric assistance and diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders, Cruz started displaying indications of unsettling conduct at the age of three when he initially interacted with other youngsters.
She explained that he continued to struggle with academic and behavioral issues. He was receiving in-home services. He had a case manager. He was seeing a clinical psychologist. He was also seeing a psychiatrist.
Douglas Cruz, who had been a member of the rifle air team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attended multiple schools including those with disciplinary records.
In August 2004, at the age of only 67, his adoptive father Roger passed away due to a heart ailment, contributing to the instability in his existence. Merely three months prior to the occurrence of the high school massacre, his adoptive mother, Lynda, passed away at the age of 68 in November 2017.
In order to make both ends meet, Cruz was employed at a nearby branch of Dollar Tree, attending an adult learning facility, and residing with compassionate relatives and friends, which ultimately rendered him parentless.
McNeill, the defendant, continues to exhibit disturbing obsessions with Satan, demons, vegan diets, bowel movements, exercise, guns, and video games, insisting that his behavior has its roots in the chaotic and criminal lifestyle of his institutionalized mother’s birth. Ms. McNeill appealed for compassion in helping him with his institutional needs.
Prosecutors highlighted the disparities in the upbringing of Cruz and Danielle.
The prosecuting attorney inquired, “Were you not residing in a residence measuring 4500 square feet… With a hot tub and a basketball court?”… Was she not acquiring any medications that you may require? Was your mother not accompanying you to a mental health specialist?”
Woodard denied it and described that way of life as “an aspiration” to her.
Cruz briefly reunited with Woodard on a Zoom call from prison prior to her death last year, according to The Daily Mail.
However – even in that case – his biological mother is said to have declined to acknowledge any accountability for his deeds.
Doug Clark, a close friend of Woodard, informed the newspaper that they had witnessed the shooting on the news. During that moment, Brenda was unaware that the victim was her own son. She was completely unfamiliar with him and had no knowledge about his existence.
She would not have agreed to speak with him on the video if she didn’t have any concern. She was shocked and upset when the lawyers arrived while she was here to have a conversation with her.
Mr. Clark said that his friend had made efforts to kick her drug and alcohol problems later in life, while holding jobs at Market Fresh and Sonoma Williams, as indicated by court documents and participation in rehabilitation programs.
“I enjoyed Brenda and I will greatly miss her,” Mr Clark added.
“However, she is in a more advantageous position at her current location. The lady was experiencing a great deal of discomfort.”