The brother of Parkland mass shooter Nikolas Cruz is believed to be starring in a reality show about his life and has previously been accused of trespassing at the school where his brother murdered 17 innocent people.
Zachary Cruz, 22, was expected to testify for the defense at Cruz’s sentencing hearing, where a jury will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
But the defense shocked the courtroom after opening its case on September 14 after calling less than half of its witness list – with Zachary still notably absent from the witness stand.
The 22-year-old released a statement saying he declined to testify because he did not want to face further alleged harassment from law enforcement.
“Broward prosecutors teamed up with a racist Virginia sheriff and a corrupt district attorney to try to arrest me, search my home and put me into probation,” he said.
Zacharay, who is 14 months younger than his 23-year-old killer brother, has stood by Cruz since he carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, armed with an AR-15-style rifle and shot students and staff. Fourteen students and three teachers were killed in the massacre.
While the trial puts more of a spotlight on Cruz and his actions leading up to the mass shooting, Zachary also made headlines after the attack.
Here’s what we know about Cruz’s younger brother:
Zachary has the same biological mother as Cruz and was also adopted by Lynda and Roger Cruz.
The boy’s mother was Brenda Woodard, who, at the time of her pregnancy with Cruz, was homeless, an alcoholic, a drug addict and working as a prostitute.
Woodard had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and a long rap sheet dating back to at least the 1980s.
When Cruz was born, he was adopted by Cruz’s parents.
About a year later, Zachary was born and was also adopted by Cruz’s parents who raised the boys together.
The siblings also have an older sister Danielle Woodard, who also has the same mother. Unlike Zachary and Cruz, Danielle grew up with Woodard, other biological relatives and lived in foster care.
When Cruz was five and Zachary was four, Roger died, leaving Linda to raise the two boys alone.
In the decade before the 2018 attack, Lynda appeared to struggle with the behavior of both her sons and called the police to the family home dozens of times.
In all, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had 43 contacts with the Cruz family before the Parkland massacre, 21 of which involved Cruz alone or both him and his brother, according to official records.
In November 2018 – just three months before the school shooting – Lynda died aged 68, leaving the two boys orphans.
Trespassing on Marjory Stoneman
In the hours after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Zachary was allowed to meet with his brother at the police station, and videos were later released to the media.
After that, he was accused of being fascinated by the fame his brother was gaining.
He visited the scene of the massacre at least three times and – after being warned to stay away – was charged with trespassing, officials said.
Zachary, who turned 18 a week after the mass shooting, told police he had gone to the school to “think about school shootings and soak it all in,” according to an arrest report.
Prosecutors said Zachary had been “overheard remarking how popular [Nikolas’] name is now” and wondered if fame would help attract women’s attention.
He was given six months in jail for trespassing at the scene of the shooting.
After his brief stint in prison, Zachary was placed under the protection of Richard Moore.
Moore founded bond servicing firm Nexus with his husband Mike Donovan, and when Zachary was arrested in 2018, the pair turned to help the then 18-year-old.
After his release, he moved from Florida to Virginia to live with the couple and their son.
They had never met before the massacre.
Mr Moore attended part of the trial and was seen in court when the defense began presenting its case.
She previously said she doesn’t approve of what Cruz did, but believes “no one should have to go through this alone.”
Mr Moore’s name came up during the trial, with prosecutors saying he had sent thousands of commissary dollars to Cruz in prison “this year alone” and regularly speaks to the mass murderer via phone calls in prison.
On October 5, Mr. Moore and Mr. Donovan were both arrested for felony exploitation of Zachary. They were charged with exploitation of a mentally incompetent person and obtaining money by false pretenses and released on $50,000 bail.
Reality television show
Prosecutors also cited a “reality show” with Zachary.
Prosecutor Jeff Marcus asked Danielle Woodard if she was familiar with the show, saying one of the episodes is called “Being Zachary Cruz.”
“Do you think it would be appropriate to capitalize on the murders of 14 children and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by filming or creating a reality show based on being the brother of a mass murderer?” asked.
The defense objected and Judge Elizabeth Scherers sustained the objection, but denied the defense’s request to strike the question from the record.
A Facebook account titled “Being Zach Cruz” and detailed as a TV show features photos of the 22-year-old.
The bio reads: “Follow Zach Cruz, the brother of the alleged Parkland shooter, as he adjusts to life after being tortured by police in Florida and out of the immediate shadow of his brothers’ infamous actions.”
The page is followed by 118 social media users.
Taking a stand
Both Zachary and Mr Moore were expected to be called to testify for the defence, with Zachary expected to speak about their troubled upbringing.
But even before the defense rested, the two legal teams were arguing over their potential testimony.
Lawyers for the two men filed a motion to bar prosecutors from asking them certain questions, saying some of them were “not appropriate.”
The judge denied the motion and ruled that both witnesses would have to answer all questions put to them by the state.
The defense refused to call them to the stand.