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Judge postpones penalty trial for Parkland school shooter

The trial was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 4, 2022.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A judge has postponed the penalty trial for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz to Feb. 21.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said both parties requested more time to prepare experts for trial, which had been scheduled to start on Jan. 4. 

Cruz pleaded guilty in October to the February 2018 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 

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.

Jurors will now decide in February whether he is sentenced to death or to life without parole. 

The trial has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and arguments over what evidence and testimony will be permitted.

RELATED: Florida district to pay $26 million to shooting victims

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. 

His lawyers have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in return for a guaranteed sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors have refused to drop their pursuit of the death penalty. A guilty plea avoids a traumatic, lengthy trial and still allows a jury to decide Cruz’s fate.

Following the massacre, it became apparent law enforcement, including the FBI, had missed several red flags in the months leading up to the shooting. 

Records show Broward County deputies got at least 18 calls warning them about Cruz from 2008 to 2017, including that "he planned to shoot up the school" and other threats of acts and violence. 

The FBI also reportedly failed to act on crucial information about Cruz from the bureau's tipline prior to the shooting.

The plea brings some closure to a South Florida community three years after the attack that sparked a nationwide movement for gun control. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, Parkland student activists formed March for Our Lives, a group that rallied hundreds of thousands around the country for tighter gun laws, including a nationally televised march in Washington, D.C.

RELATED: Gunman in 2018 Parkland school massacre pleads guilty to 17 counts of murder

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 Claire Farrow contributed to this report.