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Cruz attorneys want to question his mental counselors alone

Parkland school suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Friday, April 5, 2019. Attorneys for Cruz, the suspect in last year's Florida high school massacre, want to waive his attendance at pretrial hearings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Attorneys for the suspect in last year’s Florida school massacre want a judge to let them question his former mental health counselors without prosecutors present.

Nikolas Cruz’s lead attorney asked Judge Elizabeth Scherer for permission Thursday to question the counselors without notifying prosecutors or allowing their attendance. The counselors treated Cruz before the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

Melissa McNeill wanted to question them informally, but their employer will only comply if subpoenaed. That would require prosecutors’ attendance. She said that would hinder her ability to prepare Cruz’s defense.

Prosecutor Steven Klinger told Scherer there is no exception to the rule allowing their attendance.

Scherer said she would rule soon.

The 20-year-old defendant has offered to plead guilty for a life sentence. Prosecutors want the death penalty.

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