Nikolas Cruz Was Adopted, And That Might Get Him Off Death Row

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz could avoid death row by arguing that his birth mother’s drug addiction and criminal record should mitigate the severity of his punishment for shooting former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.

While Cruz grew up under affluent adoptive parents, his birth mother, Brenda Woodard, was frequently homeless, had a criminal record, and was addicted to cocaine while pregnant with him, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday. His adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, has no criminal record, contrasting with Woodard’s 28 arrests, some of which were for violent crimes. Criminal experts have expressed skepticism about using genetics to exonerate a defendant, however.

“Genes and genetics are not destiny. Environment can amplify genetic effects, and also blunt genetic effects,” Florida State University Criminology Professor Kevin Beaver told the Herald. “Genes in and of themselves do not determine criminality. They act in tandem with environments.”

Cruz and his attorney have already tried to obtain a more lenient sentence by promising to plea guilty immediately, but Broward State Attorney Michael Satz, who is trying the case, has rejected the deal. Public Defender Howard Finkelstein declined to comment on whether he intended to bring up Cruz’s genetics in future attempts. (RELATED: Parkland Students Receive Payouts For Shooting)

Cruz faces 17 counts of first degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, each for one of his victims in the February shooting. Federal, state, and local government agencies repeatedly missed opportunities to prevent Cruz from carrying out the shooting, however.

The repeated failures of government officials to do their job are a crucial point of context as liberals and media members clamor for further gun laws in the wake of February’s horrific attack.

It was later reported that Sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty at the school when Cruz started shooting, “never went in” to confront the shooter. Peterson could hear gunfire from coming inside the building but stayed outside the building, even as heroic students and faculty members died saving students from the hail of bullets. He resigned soon after the shooting.

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