The 26-year-old Iraq war veteran accused of shooting dead five people at a busy Florida airport on Friday was emotionless in court on Monday as he was told he could face the death penalty.
Esteban Santiago appeared in Florida federal court just before noon for his first hearing, which lasted a little more than 15 minutes and focused mainly on his financial situation.
Reporters in the court room said the suspect – shackled and wearing a red jumpsuit – answered questions firmly with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers in a Spanish accent.
A judge decided to appoint Santiago a public defender after he said he had no job and just ‘$10’ in his bank account. He said he was making just $2,000 a month at his last job, working as a security guard in Alaska.
Santiago had no reaction when the judge informed him that he could face the death penalty on two federal counts in the case. The suspect is due back in court on Tuesday for a detention hearing and will continue to be held without bond.
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Esteban Santiago, the suspect in Friday’s deadly shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport, leaves Broward County Jail Monday morning ahead of his first court appearance
During his court appearance on Monday, Santiago told a judge that he has no job and just 10 dollars in his bank account
The former Army National Guardsman, who had a history of erratic behavior, has admitted to investigators that he planned Friday’s attack in Fort Lauderdale and bought a $278 one-way ticket from his home in Alaska to carry it out, according to a criminal complaint.
Authorities say they have not ruled out terrorism as a motive and that they are investigating whether mental illness played a role.
Santiago had no reaction in court on Monday as the judge informed him he could face the death penalty
In November, Santiago went to a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Anchorage and told agents he believed U.S. spies were controlling his mind.
He could face the death penalty if convicted on charges of carrying out violence at an airport, using a firearm during a violent act, and killing with a firearm. But it may be months before prosecutors reveal what lies in Santiago’s future.
‘They’ve then got two weeks to indict him, and then they’ve got to go through the whole death penalty review,’ said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein, who is now a partner with Miami law firm Clarke Silverglate.
Executions have been on hold in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty laws a year ago. The Florida Supreme Court overturned a rewritten version in October.
Six people had gunshot wounds in the attack but survived, and about three dozen suffered minor injuries in the chaos as passengers and airport workers fled the gunfire.
Surveillance footage from Friday shows Santiago shooting at innocent bystanders in the Terminal 2 baggage claim
Authorities say Santiago arrived on a connecting flight from Alaska and retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his only checked luggage before loading it in a bathroom.
He then returned to the baggage claim area and walked ‘while shooting in a methodical manner’ 10 to 15 times, aiming at his victims’ heads, according to the criminal complaint.
Information surfaced over the weekend that police in Alaska took a handgun from Santiago in November after he told FBI agents there his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.
They returned it to him about a month later after a medical evaluation found he was not mentally ill.
People stand on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after the shooting on Friday
An injured woman is taken into Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale after the shooting on Friday
Video published by the website TMZ on Sunday showed the gunman walking calmly past the airport’s luggage carousels before wordlessly pulling the handgun from his waistband and shooting at victims who fled or dived to the floor.
Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico and Alaska national guards, including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon. Relatives have said he acted erratically since returning from Iraq.
The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings in the United States. Some were inspired by Islamist militants, while others were carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.