Alaska man Esteban Santiago pleads guilty in Florida airport shooting

An Iraq war veteran, Santiago has been treated for schizophrenia but was found competent to understand legal proceedings.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 

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MIAMI — An Alaska man pleaded guilty Wednesday in exchange for a life prison sentence in the Florida airport shooting that killed five people and wounded six.

Esteban Santiago, 28, pleaded guilty to 11 charges stemming from the January 2017 attack. Santiago, of Anchorage, Alaska, admitted he opened fire with a handgun in a baggage area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Image: Esteban Santiago is led from the Broward County jail
Esteban Santiago, center, is led from the Broward County jail for an arraignment in federal court, on Jan. 30, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.Lynne Sladky / AP

The plea deal was struck after prosecutors announced they would not seek the death penalty. Instead, Santiago agreed to a life prison sentence plus 120 years. The sentence will be officially imposed by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom on Aug. 17 to give victims and families a chance to give statements at a hearing.

"Today the man responsible for the horrific, devastating, and tragic attack on numerous innocent people at the Fort Lauderdale Airport was held accountable for his crimes," Miami U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg said in a statement.

An Iraq war veteran, Santiago has been treated for schizophrenia but was found competent to understand legal proceedings. A psychologist testified Wednesday that Santiago's mental state has shown great improvement since he was first arrested.

"Certainly this is the best I've ever seen him," psychologist Heather Holmes testified. "This is the clearest he's ever been."

Judge Bloom asked Santiago why he did what he did. Santiago initially told the FBI he thought he was under some form of government mind control.

"Um, I don't know. I wasn't really thinking about it at the moment. A lot of things were going on in my mind. Messages," he replied.

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