By Paula McMahon, Los Angeles Times
The Iraq war veteran charged with killing five people and injuring six others in a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him on Monday.
Esteban Santiago, 26, leaned over the wooden lectern in court and appeared to read along as U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer read the entire 17-page indictment aloud to him — including the names of the five people killed in the mass shooting.
Santiago replied “yes” after each of the 22 charges when Seltzer asked if he understood them.
Santiago appeared calm and spoke in the same monotone he has used in all of the prior hearings.
He was handcuffed to a chain around his waist, was shackled and wore a red jumpsuit with the words “Max Custody Inmate” in black letters on the back.
One of his lawyers then told the judge that Santiago was pleading not guilty to all of the charges.
If convicted of the most serious counts, he faces life in federal prison or the possibility of the death penalty.
(Formal arraignment for Esteban Santiago, courtesy of CBS Miami and YouTube)
The grand jurors who indicted Santiago found that he caused “grave risk of death to other people” and the crime involved “substantial planning and premeditation.”
The five people who died in the Jan. 6 mass shooting were Mary Louise Amzibel, 69, of Dover, Delaware, Michael John Oehme, 57, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Olga M. Woltering, 84, of Marietta, Ga., Shirley Wells Timmons, 70, of Senecaville, Ohio and Terry Michael Andres, 62, of Virginia Beach, Va.
The six people who were injured by gunfire, including Amzibel’s husband, Edward, Timmons’ husband, Steve, and Oehme’s wife, Kari, are identified only by their initials in the indictment. The other survivors have not been publicly identified.
FBI agents testified that Santiago confessed to planning the massacre and told investigators he traveled to South Florida to carry it out.
Prosecutors have said they have not yet ruled out terrorism as a possible motive but they filed no terrorism-related charges against Santiago.
Though he told told agents he had visited online jihadi chat rooms and thought he was in contact with Islamic State terrorists, investigators have not yet confirmed if that is true.
(FBI special agent Michael Ferlazzo testified Tuesday, Esteban Santiago told FBI agents he carried out the attack on behalf of ISIS. Courtesy of Wochit News and YouTube)
Santiago voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital for treatment in November after he went to the FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, and asked for help.
At the time, he told agents that his mind was being controlled by the U.S. government and he was having “terroristic thoughts” and being urged to watch terrorist propaganda online.
He was hospitalized for less than a week and the gun, which he used in the Fort Lauderdale shooting, was returned to him by local police in Alaska one month before the fatal attack.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ricardo Del Toro and Lawrence LaVecchio. Santiago is now being defended by Chief Assistant Federal Public Defender Hector Dopico and Assistant Federal Public Defender Eric Cohen.