“In telling you Nik’s story, in telling you the chapters of his life, we will give you reasons for life,” public defender Melisa McNeill said Monday in a Florida courtroom. “That is called mitigation. Mitigation is any reason that you believe that the death penalty is not an appropriate penalty in this case.”
In particular, McNeill highlighted his birth mother’s abuse of drugs and alcohol during his pregnancy, saying Cruz showed signs from a young age of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
“Because Nikolas was bombarded by all of those things, he was poisoned in the womb. Because of that, his brain was irretrievably broken, through no fault of his own,” McNeill said.
If jurors recommend Cruz be death to death, they must be unanimous.
In opening statements Monday, McNeill laid out Cruz’s difficult family life, including his mother’s history of addiction and the death of his adopted parents.
She called Cruz a “damaged and wounded” person and said attorneys plan to show the court disturbing things he said and wrote, his obsessions with guns and devils and even his school shooting “manifesto.”
“His brain is broken,” she said. “He’s a damaged human being. And that’s why these things happen.”
Cruz had developmental delays early in his childhood, including his difficulty communicating with others. He would bite others, lash out emotionally and was intellectually impaired, McNeill said.
The defense case may include testimony from Cruz’s siblings. Last week, Judge Elizabeth Scherer granted the state’s motion to compel depositions for Zachary Cruz, the gunman’s brother, and Richard Moore, who Zachary currently lives with in Virginia. Zachary Cruz and Richard Moore were ordered by the court to appear September 6 for deposition to “answer each and every question that are posed by the state.”
The defense has said it will not attempt to blame the crime on any third party or anyone except Cruz.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, also were killed, each while running toward danger or trying to help students to safety.
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.