Fort Lauderdale airport shooting suspect will take plea deal to avoid death penalty

Fort Lauderdale suspect charged in court
Fort Lauderdale suspect charged in court

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Fort Lauderdale suspect charged in court 02:20

(CNN)The man accused of killing five people and wounding six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year will plead guilty to all charges in exchange for receiving a life sentence, according to court proceedings Tuesday in Miami federal court, CNN affiliate WFOR reported.

"The defense made a plea offer that the defendant would plead guilty and accept a sentence of life without parole in exchange for the death penalty being waived," said Assistant US Attorney Ricardo Del Toro.
Esteban Santiago, the man accused of killing five people inside a Fort Lauderdale airport, originally pleaded not guilty to all 22 charges against him in January.
Authorities said the 26-year-old Iraqi war veteran opened fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, 2017, shooting until he ran out of ammunition.
    He used a Walther 9mm pistol he retrieved from a handgun case he had checked on his flight from Anchorage, authorities said.
    Del Toro said that each of the victims' families were contacted before the court considered the plea deal.
    "Avoiding a trial, with this plea, is in the best interests of all the families involved," said Assistant US Public Defender Eric Cohen.
    Esteban Santiago
    Santiago was charged in the federal indictment with 11 counts of performing an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that caused death or serious bodily injury, six counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence -- and five counts of causing the death of a person through the use of a firearm.
    No terrorism-related charges have been filed, though Santiago told FBI agents he carried out the attack on behalf of ISIS, an FBI agent testified at Santiago's bond hearing last year. The agent did not elaborate on whether Santiago was purporting to be linked to ISIS or simply inspired by the terrorist organization.
    No terrorist links were found, according to CNN affiliate WFOR.
    Authorities have said Santiago confessed.
    Federal authorities in Alaska said Santiago visited an FBI office several months before the attack and told them he was hearing voices and that his mind was being controlled by the CIA.
    He voluntarily checked himself into a mental health center for evaluation and was released several days later. Relatives also said Santiago returned from military service with mental and emotional problems.
    On Tuesday, US District Judge Beth Bloom ordered Santiago to undergo a mental evaluation ahead of the signing of the plea deal.
    "This court has an obligation to ensure that Mr. Santiago has the ability to knowingly and competently enter a plea and waive his rights," Bloom said.
    That hearing will take place on May 23, according to CNN affiliate WFOR.