FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Another defense witness came forward Wednesday to describe the troubled childhood of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz, painting him as a hothead who once swung a golf club repeatedly at a motorcycle trailer because he was upset.
Paul Gold, a former neighbor, said Cruz’s tantrums often came with little to no warning. Gold met Cruz, his brother and their mother in 2011, when he moved into their Parkland neighborhood. He told of problems with both boys, describing outbursts from Nikolas and an iPad theft he blamed on his brother, Zachary.
“The first time I met him I knew that this kid was just not right,” Gold told jurors about Nikolas Cruz after taking the stand Wednesday afternoon. “He’d lose his temper. Out of nowhere he’d just snap.”
When the kids played pool at his house, Gold told of Cruz holding his ears and rocking back and forth when the billiard balls clicked together. Another time, Cruz smashed Gold’s motorcycle trailer with a golf club then later apologized.
Lynda Cruz appeared to be in denial about it, he said. She became angry and told him there was nothing wrong with her son.
But jurors have already heard that the boy had been seeing doctors and mental health experts from the time he was 3. Under cross-examination, Gold said he was not aware of the treatment.
Lynda Cruz died Nov. 1, 2017. Gold, who had lost touch with the boys as they grew older, said he drove Cruz to the service, but very few people attended. To spare Cruz’s feelings, Gold said he made up a story about the newspaper printing the wrong date for the service.
Defense lawyers are delving into the defendant’s past to drum up sympathy to counter the prosecution’s case for the death penalty — 17 murders committed in a six-minute rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Gold said when he heard about the shooting, his first thought was to worry for Nikolas Cruz’s safety. He even called Cruz to check on him, he said. “I couldn’t even imagine that it was him,” he testified. Since then, he said he was horrified and distraught. “I considered him a friend until the incident happened.”
Still, he has remained in touch with the defendant and takes his calls from jail, Gold said.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Jeff Marcus seized on the jail calls, implying Gold had an ulterior motive for staying in touch with a notorious gunman.
“I’m amazed somebody hasn’t approached you about making a movie,” Gold told Cruz in an August 2021 call played for jurors. Gold said in the call he was friends with a movie producer who worked with big name actors like Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks.
Gold said Wednesday he wanted to understand and help Cruz, not exploit him or the 17 deaths.
Marcus also questioned how Cruz could be so distraught by the sound of two billiard balls clicking together but not by the sound of the AR-15 style rifle he used during the mass shooting.
During Gold’s testimony, Cruz frequently looked over at the witness stand and made comments to his attorneys — a break from the norm. Typically he slouches in his seat, looking down, seemingly immune to whatever is being said on the witness stand.
A jury’s unanimous vote is required to sentence Cruz to death; otherwise he will be sentenced to life in prison.
The trial resumes Thursday.