Judge says accused Florida airport
shooter is mentally sound for trial
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[March 16, 2017]
By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran
accused of killing five people in a shooting at a Florida airport this
year appears mentally fit to stand trial despite psychiatric health
issues, a federal judge said on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said she would not order a mental
competency evaluation for Esteban Santiago after his lawyers said he was
taking prescribed anti-psychotic medication and participating in his
"He has been increasingly engaged and present during each of his
sessions with his lawyers," said Bloom, who sits in the Southern
District of Florida in Miami.
Santiago, 26, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective
disorder after his arrest, according to court documents.
Authorities say he opened fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort
Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6 in one of the nation's most recent deadly
Santiago has pleaded not guilty to 22 criminal charges, including
violence at an airport causing death and injury, and firearms crimes.
Bloom told Santiago she would hold monthly status hearings to ensure
that he continues taking his medication and remains competent.
Santiago, shackled and in a beige jumpsuit, said he understood the
hearings were intended "to see if I'm mentally capable for trial."
If convicted, he could be punished by life imprisonment or death. The
U.S. attorney general ultimately would decide whether to seek a death
Defense attorneys and prosecutors said in court it could take as long as
a year to vet the factors involved in that decision.
A trial scheduled for October could be delayed, Bloom said.
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Esteban Santiago, is shown in this booking photo provided by the
Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, January
7, 2017. Courtesy Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via
A private first class in the National Guard who served in Iraq from
2010 to 2011, Santiago traveled from Alaska to Florida on a one-way
airline ticket with a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage,
according to authorities.
He claimed his gun case upon arrival and loaded the weapon in a
men's bathroom, investigators said in a criminal complaint. Santiago
opened fire on the first people he saw after leaving the restroom,
Authorities said Santiago aimed at victims' heads and bodies until
he ran out of ammunition and was taken into custody. Six people also
were wounded in the attack.
Santiago told investigators he was inspired by the Islamic State
militant group and had previously chatted online with Islamist
extremists, according to FBI testimony previously presented in
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Writing by Letitia Stein;
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)
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