FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz will be delayed until April. Prosecutors told the judge Wednesday that they needed more time to interview mental health experts who are expected to testify on Cruz's behalf.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Wednesday reluctantly moved the start of jury selection from Feb. 21 until April. That will be almost four years and two months after the 2018 Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where 17 were killed.
The trial originally was expected to begin in 2020, but it has been delayed numerous times because of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.
Under Florida law, prosecutors and defense attorneys can interview witnesses before trial so "they know what they are expected to say and can prepare their cross-examination," The Associated Press reports.
Scherer was reportedly told by prosecutors the defense has now presented 16 mental health experts and is expecting to possibly add up to five more to testify on Cruz's behalf.
Experts who have been able to interview Cruz are now being interviewed by prosecutors and a mental health expert hired by the prosecution is expected to interview the 23-year-old in two weeks, the media outlet explains.
“I don’t think I have a choice but to delay,” AP reports a frustrated Scherer said. She and the attorneys agree that the delays are frustrating to the families involved who are organizing their lives around the trial.
In other issues discussed at Wednesday's hearing, Scherer ruled it's not needed for the prosecution to pare down its possible witness list of 1,100 people who mostly will not testify, AP explained. The school shooter's attorneys argue having "such a large list is the equivalent of having no list at all because it makes it impossible to prepare."
Cruz pleaded guilty in October to the February 2018 killings.
Fourteen students and three staff members died on that Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland. Cruz also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder.
Cruz was 19 years old during the Valentine's Day 2018 shooting and was a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. An hour after the attack, Cruz was arrested with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
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These are the names of the 17 people killed during the Parkland school shooting:
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Scott Beigel, 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Aaron Fies, 37
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Christopher Hixon, 49
Luke Hoyer, 15
Cara Loughran, 14
Gina Montalto, 14
Joaquin Oliver, 17
Alaina Petty, 14
Meadow Pollack, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alexander Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Peter Wang, 15
10 Tampa Bay's Courtney Holland contributed to this report.