As Nikolas Cruz enters the third week of his sentencing trial for the Parkland school massacre, his biological sister is in a Miami-Dade jail on charges of carjacking — and her upcoming trial may now be complicated by his.
Miami’s attorneys for Danielle Woodard, 35, have asked a judge to have them pulled from her case because they disagree with her desire to testify in her brother’s defense.
“We don’t think it will help in her case,” Miami attorney Fred Moldovan, who represents her with Richard Mirsky, told the Herald on Monday.
Woodard’s trial in Miami-Dade is scheduled for August 22. No hearing date has been set for Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ramiro Areces to consider the petition, which was filed in court on Sunday.
Cruz’s defense team in Broward County is expected to begin the case later this month. The extent of the sibling relationship isn’t clear — the Herald reported in 2018 that Cruz, who was adopted as a baby, grew up without contact with his biological mother or sister, who was in prison at the time of the murder. Massacre in Parkland.
The timing and details of her potential testimony in Broward County court also remain unclear. Although she didn’t grow up with Cruz, Woodard was able to tell the judges about their mother’s substance abuse. Cruz’s defense team has said it will allege that he suffered brain damage in utero from her drugs and alcohol. It’s possible the defense attorneys would cite Woodward’s own long history of criminal problems to bolster that argument.
The Daily Mail reported that Cruz’s birth mother, Brenda Woodard, died of cancer last year, but agreed to reconnect with her son via video chat before her death.
Cruz, 23, already has pleaded guilty to the murder of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland on February 14, 2018. He also pleaded guilty to injuring 17 others.
Testimony in the “punishment phase” of his process started on July 18. The 12-member will decide whether Cruz is executed for the murders, or whether he will spend life in prison.
Broward’s prosecutors are expected to close their case this week. Hoping to convince the jury to vote against the death, his defense team will present “softening” evidence about Cruz’s tumultuous upbringing, mental disorders and brain damage caused by his birth mother’s alcohol and drug use.
Like her mother, Danielle Woodard cycled in and out of prisons for years. At the time of the massacre, she was in a Florida prison, serving an eight-year sentence for a range of crimes, including attempted murder, fleeing and evasion, credit card fraud, and resisting arrest by force. It was her second stint in prison, having previously served a five-year term for a separate series of crimes.
Woodward — first listed as a possible defense witness, according to court records in December — left a Florida prison in August 2019, state records show. But just a few months later, in January 2020, she was arrested again in Miami Dade.
This time, police said, she carjacked an elderly woman who was trying to donate goods at a Goodwill in Miami Gardens. According to an arrest report, Woodard jumped into the car and tried to drive away, hurling the woman from the car, causing injuries to her arm and head. A man who was with the victim also tried to stop the car, clinging to the car, hurting himself by falling away.
Woodard crashed the stolen car and was arrested, the report said. She has since been in a Miami-Dade jail awaiting trial.
Her attorneys in Miami cited the ongoing Parkland shooting process in a petition to the court, saying they “don’t agree on [Woodard’s] actions and desires in connection with her brother’s case.”
Moldova said it believed her testimony would harm her lawsuit, because Broward’s prosecutors could publicly ask her about the pending carjacking case.
“I do not think so” [her testimony] will make or break Nikolas Cruz’s verdict,” Moldova said. “I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
In their request to the court, her lawyers cited “irreconcilable differences” and a difficulty “communicating with each other”. They also said Woodard hasn’t paid them and doesn’t want them on the case.