By Bernie Woodall
FORTLAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – A U.S. veteran of the war in Iraq who killed five people during a shooting spree in the arrivals area of a Florida airport last year is due to be sentenced on Friday to life in a federal prison.
Esteban Santiago, 28, pleaded guilty in May to launching the attack near a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, 2017.
Under a deal with prosecutors that was approved by a federal judge, he escaped the death penalty and will instead be sentenced to five consecutive life terms followed by 120 years in prison, without the right of appeal.
Santiago carried out the rampage after flying to Florida from his home in Anchorage, Alaska, then recovering a 9mm pistol and two ammunition clips from his checked baggage. In addition to killing five people, he wounded six others as he walked through the arrivals area, apparently opening fire at random, security camera footage showed.
After running out of bullets, he placed his weapon on the floor and surrendered to police.
A psychologist testified during a plea hearing in May that Santiago had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The federal judge ruled in March 2017 that he was mentally fit to stand trial.
Santiago, who served in the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard, was deployed to Iraq from 2010 to 2011.
When U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom asked Santiago at the plea hearing why he carried out the attack, he replied: “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time … There were a lot of things going on in my mind, messages.”
Bloom will preside over Friday morning’s hearing in federal court in Miami, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Daniel Wallis and XX)