National News

Man Agrees to Plead Guilty to Killing 5 at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Posted May 21, 2018 10:57 p.m. EDT

A man who the authorities say fatally shot five people and wounded six others at an airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last year has agreed to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty, according to documents filed in court Monday.

Prosecutors said that the man, Esteban Santiago, would plead guilty to 11 counts related to the attack at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and would serve five consecutive life sentences, followed by 120 years in prison for the shooting rampage on Jan. 6, 2017.

As part of the agreement, Santiago, 28, also waived his right to appeal and agreed to forfeit a pistol that he used in the shooting, the documents say. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining 11 counts of the indictment filed last year.

A competency hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, though it appears possible that it could turn into a plea hearing at which the deal would be completed.

Sarah J. Schall, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida, said Monday that the office “will not be commenting at this time.” A lawyer for Santiago did not immediately return an email message seeking comment on Monday night.

The shooting was among those mentioned by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida when he signed an array of gun limits into law earlier this year.

Santiago is an Iraq War veteran, which initially led some to blame the rampage on post-traumatic stress disorder. Santiago’s family has said he reported hearing voices — including some that urged him to enroll in groups for the Islamic State — and had other hallucinations; but they said he was never given a diagnosis of PTSD. In November, he walked into an FBI office in Alaska, where he lived in recent years, and told agents that his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.

The court documents filed Monday said that three days before the shooting, Santiago looked at a map of the international terminal of Los Angeles International Airport on his smartphone. They did not say why they believed he had done so.

On the same day, they said, he purchased a one-way airline ticket from Anchorage that would stop in Minneapolis before continuing to Fort Lauderdale.

Around that time, the court documents say, Santiago threw out some of his possessions, including personal papers, one of which appeared to be a checklist. The apparent checklist, prosecutors said, had “a notation to ‘clean’ the laptop,” the court documents said.

Santiago boarded a Delta Air Lines flight on Jan. 5, taking only “a hard-sided firearm case, which contained a Walther 9 mm pistol,” and two magazines loaded with ammunition, the court documents said.

Then, prosecutors said, after Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale, he picked up the checked baggage containing his handgun, loaded the weapon and opened fire.