How To Have Empathy For A Mass Killer


Nothing will ever excuse what Nikolas Cruz did. But some things do help explain it.

By way of background, on February 14, 2018 – Valentine’s Day – Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and massacred 17 people – 14 students and three staff members. It’s the deadliest high school shooting in US history, surpassing Columbine which claimed 15 lives.

Fast forward four years to the testimony last week of Cruz’s half-sister, Danielle Woodard, during the penalty phase of the trial (Cruz has already pled guilty, the trial is simply for a jury to determine whether he’s jailed for life without the possibility of parole, or given a death sentence).

The testimony from Woodard – who is also in prison awaiting trial on car-jacking charges – is tragic and gut-wrenching. Their mother, Brenda Woodard, was a drug addict and alcoholic, and worked as a prostitute. She told her daughter that her younger brother, Nikolas’ conception was the result of a rape.

Cruz was adopted out at birth, so he didn’t have anything like the same abusive experience as his sister growing. But her evidence makes clear the damage that was done to him in utero by his mother’s lifestyle. If you’re still in any doubt, then this testimony from Carolyn Deakins, a woman who worked alongside Brenda Woodard as a prostitute while she was pregnant, will help.

Experts have testified that Cruz showed serious emotional and social problems from a very young age. Cruz’s adopted father died in front of him of a heart attack when he was just five years old. Lynda subsequently died on November 2017, just three months before her son’s rampage.

Cruz has variously indicated he was an incel (a male who is involuntarily celibate because they’re shunned by women); that he was a racist; and that he was an enthusiastic Trump supporter. Only one thing is clear – Cruz is a deeply disturbed and tragic figure, whose identity is as confused as his goals and politics.

The only thing more distressing than watching witnesses for Cruz testify about his life and troubles has been watching the families of the Parkland shooting victims watch proceedings from the public gallery, or in some cases take the stand to testify to the impact of Cruz’s actions.

The Parkland shooting trial continues live on Youtube, on the Law & Crime Network’s channel.

Florida is one of America’s most enthusiastic states when it comes to the death penalty. Despite executions slowing to one or two a year, the State still sentences people to death. The most recent was earlier this month.

There are currently 304 men and three women on Florida’s Death Row. James Rose is the longest serving inmate, at 45 years (he was sentenced in May 1977, and is now aged 77). Rose is not the oldest inmate – that ‘honour’ belongs to Nelson Serrano, who turns 84 in a couple of weeks. Serrano’s conviction in 1997 for a quadruple homicide is one of the most controversial in the state, with revelations that police and prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence during the trial.

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