In this Jan. 30, 2017 photo, Esteban Santiago is escorted from the Broward County jail for an arraignment in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Justice Department has decided not to seek the death penalty against Santiago accused of killing five people and wounding six in a Florida airport shooting. Officials said Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, will agree to a life sentence. The announcement was made in Miami on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Lynne Sladky | The Associated Press File)

In this Jan. 30, 2017 photo, Esteban Santiago is escorted from the Broward County jail for an arraignment in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Justice Department has decided not to seek the death penalty against Santiago accused of killing five people and wounding six in a Florida airport shooting. Officials said Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, will agree to a life sentence. The announcement was made in Miami on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Lynne Sladky | The Associated Press File)

Anchorage man agrees to guilty plea in Florida airport shooting

MIAMI — An Alaska man will not face the death penalty on charges of killing five people and wounding six in a shooting rampage at a Florida airport, authorities announced Tuesday.

Instead, Esteban Santiago agreed to plead guilty, serve a life sentence and give up all appeals rights under a plea deal between his attorneys and federal prosecutors that was announced in court. His actual guilty plea and sentencing would occur at a later date.

Santiago, 28, of Anchorage, Alaska, is charged in a 22-count indictment in the January 2017 shooting in a baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Trial had been set to begin June 11.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom asked Santiago, dressed in a tan jail outfit and in chains, if he understood the agreement he was making.

“Yes, your honor,” he replied.

According to the indictment, Santiago flew on a one-way ticket from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with a 9 mm handgun in a box he put in checked luggage. After landing he retrieved the weapon, loaded it in a bathroom and came out firing randomly until he exhausted his ammunition.

Since his arrest, Santiago has been treated at a Miami jail for schizophrenia but his lawyers say he is mentally fit for trial. He complained of mental problems before the shooting but was not barred from possessing a gun.

Bloom said she wanted a mental evaluation done before accepting the plea deal because of the rights Santiago would be giving up. She set a May 23 hearing for a mental competency hearing.

“That is the court’s utmost concern,” she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Del Toro said the agreement was approved by senior Justice Department officials and in consultation with families of the slain victims. In the federal system, all prosecutions in which the death penalty is a possibility must be approved by the attorney general.

“The attorney general has given us the authority not to seek the death penalty,” Del Toro said.

After the shooting, the FBI says Santiago told agents in a confession that he acted under government mind control, then claimed inspiration by Islamic State extremists. No terrorism links have been found.

The FBI says numerous airport security cameras recorded the shooting on video and there are dozens of witnesses who can identify Santiago as the shooter.

Santiago, a National Guard Iraq was veteran, was treated at an Anchorage psychiatric hospital last year after he showed up at the local FBI office saying he was under CIA mind control and was hearing voices. He was released after a brief stay and given anti-anxiety medicine.

His gun, which had been confiscated by police during that time, was returned to him and was used a few weeks later in the Florida shooting.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Aug. 14

Here’s what to expect this week.

Supporters of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wait for an opportunity to talk to her at her newly Juneau campaign headquarters Thursday evening at Kootznoowoo Plaza. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Murkowski opens up at Juneau HQ debut

Senator chats with supporters about U.S. vs. Belgium voting, moose chili and Project Veritas

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

U.S. Senate candidate Shoshana Gungurstein stars in a campaign sign within view of the Alaska governor’s mansion. Gungurstein, an independent, got exposure this week for being a Hollywood actress under a different last name after questions about her past went unanswered throughout the campaign. She is one of 19 candidates seeking to be among the four selected in next Tuesday’s primary to compete in the November general election. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Senate candidate sheds more light on background

Shoshana Gungurstein responds at length to recent report on past film career.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Drug arrest made in Skagway

Police say a suspicious package was intercepted.

This late-April photo shows a damaged sticker on a door at Thunder Mountain High School reminding people to social distance and wear masks inside the building. Masks will not be required in school buildings this year. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
No mandatory masks or COVID-19 tests for new school year

No mandatory masks or COVID-19 tests for new school year

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday Aug. 12, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

From left, Kelsey Dean, watershed scientist with the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, and Kaagwaan Eesh Manuel Rose-Bell of Keex’ Kwáan watch as crew members set up tools to drag a log into place. Healthy salmon habitat requires woody debris, typically provided by falling branches and trees, which helps create deep salmon pools and varied stream structure. (Courtesy Photos / Mary Catharine Martin)
 
The SalmonState: Bringing the sockeye home

Klawock Indigenous Stewards and partners are working to a once prolific sockeye salmon run.

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read