MIAMI, December 18, 2017: U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom decided to delay the trial of Florida airport shooter Esteban Santiago until June. The trial was delayed in order to give the Department of Justice to decide whether to seek the death penalty. The trial will now begin June 11 and was previously scheduled to begin in January.
Prosecutors said they will need until late April to make their decision about whether to seek the death penalty or life behind bars.
Santiago pleaded not guilty to five counts of causing death at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and six counts of causing serious bodily injury at the airport, five counts of causing death during a crime of violence and six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Santiago allegedly killed Mary Louise Amzibel, 69; Michael John Oehme, 57; Olga M. Woltering, 84; Shirley Wells Timmons; and Terry Michael Andres, 62. He is also accused of injuring six other people.
The FBI reported that Santiago claimed inspiration by ISIS extremists but no links to terrorism have been found. Several airport security cameras captured the shooting on video and numerous weapons identify Santiago as the shooter.
The final decision whether to seek the death penalty falls to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A local committee will make a recommendation to Miami U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg, who then forwards that recommendation to the Department of Justice. The deadline for prosecutors to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty is April 30. U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio agrees with Bloom’s decision to delay the trial.
“It’s a time-consuming process and involves many persons, and it should be, given the gravity of this case,” said LaVecchio said. “Everybody wants to get it right.”
Esteban Santiago is a National Guard veteran and was hospitalized in Alaska, just two months before the tragic airport shooting. He complained of mental programs but was released. Public defender Eric Cohen is satisfied with Santiago’s competency.