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January 9, 2017

Will new Trump Justice Department seek death penalty for Fort Lauderdale airport mass murderer given apparent mental illness?

The question in the title of this post emerges from the news of federal charges filed and a planned court appearance for Esteban Santiago.  This Reuters article, headlined "Florida airport shooting suspect due in court Monday, could face death penalty," provides the details:

The 26-year-old Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people at a busy Florida airport in the latest U.S. gun rampage was due to appear in a federal court on Monday on charges that could bring him the death penalty.

Esteban Santiago, who had a history of erratic behavior, has admitted to investigators that he planned Friday's attack in Fort Lauderdale and bought a 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.  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.

Bond for Santiago, who is being held at the Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, may be set at the hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. EST on Monday near Fort Lauderdale, and he would be assigned a public defender if he cannot afford his own lawyer.  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....

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....

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 on-going federal capital trial of the Charleston church mass murderer Dylann Roof has prompted a number of folks, especially those in the abolitionist community, to be talking about mental illness and the inappropriateness of sentencing a mentally disturbed individual to death.  Those discussions and debates would surely reach another level if (dare I say when) the incoming Trump Administration and its new Attorney General decide to pursue capital charges against Esteban Santiago.

January 9, 2017 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


Likely paranoid, and a veteran. Both are factors that make him more dangerous, not less dangerous. Yet, these features will be falsely claimed to be mitigating factors by the lawyer. To the non-denier, these are aggravating features that should fast track him to the death penalty.

Paranoid people kill 10% of the murder victims around the world, that is around 1500 people a year in the US. Almost all rampage killers have the disorder.

If you like rampage killings, thank the Supreme Court. They changed the criteria for involuntary treatment to mentally ill plus committed a dangerous act, just mentally ill and needing treatment. Now the killer qualifies for involuntary treatment. Their decision was to generate a hearing and jobs for 3 lawyers, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, and the magistrate in the middle. Prior to this fatal decision, two physicians had to find the patient needed treatment. Only the most massive conspiracy and payoffs could generate any type of abuse by physicians who never met the patient before and were not going to treat him or benefit from involuntary commitment.

All rampage killings after 1976 have been the fault of the Supreme Court and its rent seeking, awful judgement.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 9, 2017 11:46:31 AM

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