FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday postponed the penalty trial for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz until February.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer stated in a court order that both parties requested more time to prepare experts for trial, saying they would not be ready to start on the scheduled date, Jan. 4. Scherer postponed the trial to Feb. 21.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Once jurors are selected, they will decide whether he is sentenced to death or to life without parole.

For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the 12-member jury must agree unanimously. Scherer decided earlier this month to allow the victims’ families to testify, rejecting an attempt by Cruz’s attorneys to bar parents and others to speak directly to the jury. The attorneys argued that could result in “overly emotional displays” that would violate Cruz’s right to a fair trial.

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

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox