Parkland mass shooter Nikolas Cruz has been talking with the parent of a Sandy Hook massacre victim about preventing gun violence in schools, his defense attorney said at his sentencing trial Monday.
Public defender Melisa McNeill said in her opening statement that the 23-year-old killer had videoconferences with Scarlett Lewis — whose 6-year-old son was murdered in the 2012 Connecticut school shooting — from jail.
“You will hear through those conversations that together she and Nik are trying to find a way to prevent this from ever happening again,” McNeill told the court.
The revelation came as Cruz’s defense team gave its opening statements in the trial that will have jurors decide whether he will get life in prison or the death penalty for the Feb. 14, 2018, slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Cruz has already pleaded guilty to gunning down 14 students and three staffers in the school shooting, one of the worst in the nation’s history.
His attorney highlighted Cruz’s conversations with the bereaved parents as a way to try to convince jurors that he still has some redemptive value despite his horrific crimes.
McNeill also argued that Cruz’s childhood was marked by extreme trauma and dysfunction that left him with a “broken brain.”
“Wounded and damaged people wound and damage other people,” she said. “Because they are in pain.
“But we don’t excuse the horrific acts of damaged and wounded people. We punish them. But we take into consideration their damage when we impose sentence.”
McNeill said Cruz’s birth mother, Brenda Woodard, was a crack-addicted prostitute — and that the father he never met was either a john or a rapist.
Woodard consumed drugs and alcohol routinely while pregnant, indulgences that McNeill said left Cruz marinating in toxins as a fetus.
“Because Nik was bombarded with all of those things, he was poisoned in the womb and because of that, his brain was irretrievably broken through no fault of his own,” McNeill said.
Woodard put Cruz up for adoption after his birth in 1998, and he was placed in the care of Linda and Roger Cruz of Parkland.
Roger Cruz died of a heart attack in front of Nikolas when he was 5 years old. His adoptive mother passed just months before Cruz’s rampage through his former high school.
To sway the jury, Cruz’s attorneys will have to overcome the jury’s exposure to graphic details about the mass killing and harrowing testimony from witnesses and victims presented by prosecutors.
Prosecutors, over the course of three weeks, presented footage of the gunman shooting young teens at point-blank range, even circling back to some of the wounded to finish them off.
The defense will resume its case after a lunch break Monday and is expected to call two of Cruz’s siblings to the stand.