A former soldier accused of shooting five people to death and wounding six more in a Florida airport last year is set to plead guilty in an attempt to avoid the death penalty.
Esteban Santiago, 28, is expected to plead guilty to 11 of the 22 felony counts against him for the attack, and receive a life sentence in federal prison, plus 120 years, according to documents filed by federal prosecutors on Monday, the Associated Press reported.
In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Santiago. The suspect also waived his right to appeal and agreed to forfeit the handgun used in the shooting, a Walther PPS 9mm semi-automatic, the documents say.
A hearing in the case is set for Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, who is expected to finalize the deal, according to the New York Times.
Santiago enlisted in the Puerto Rican National Guard in December 2007, and ended his military career with the Alaskan National Guard in August 2016, according to his service record.
From April 2010 to February 2011, he was deployed as a combat engineer in Iraq, where he earned a Combat Action Badge. In Iraq, he was responsible for clearing roadside bombs. Two members of his company were killed by a roadside bomb while Santiago was in Iraq. When Santiago returned home, he “lost his mind,” his aunt said, according to the New York Times.
In November 2016, two months before his airport rampage, Santiago walked into the FBI field office in Anchorage, Alaska and reported that the government was forcing him to watch ISIS videos, according to ABC news, which led Anchorage police to seize his handgun and send him to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
But Santiago was only prescribed anti-anxiety medications and released after just five days, and then police returned his handgun, according to the Associated Press.
Santiago then bought a one-way ticket and flew on January 3, 2017 from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He checked one piece of luggage for the trip: “a hard-sided firearm case, which contained a Walther 9mm pistol,” the legal documents filed on Monday say.
When he de-planed in Florida, shortly after noon, he waited several minutes at the baggage carousel for the weapon, but it never came. Instead, he heard his name being called over the airport’s public address system, paging him to come to the service desk, where he retrieved it, the Sun Sentinel reported.
He carried the case into a bathroom, opened it, inserted one of two loaded magazines into the gun, cocked it, exited the bathroom and started firing, “aiming at his victims’ heads,” according to Santiago’s arrest warrant.
[PHOTO: Broward County Sheriff's Office]