(USA Today)- The Iraq War veteran who killed five people and wounded six others in a 2017 shooting rampage at the main airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will spend the rest of his days in federal prison.
Esteban Santiago, who had pleaded guilty in May to 11 charges in a plea agreement that spared him from the death penalty, was sentenced Friday to five life terms and 120 years in prison, with no possibility of parole.
Santiago, 28, is responsible for the deadliest airport shooting in American history, as he fired 15 shots at passengers picking up their luggage in the baggage claim area, aiming at their heads and bodies in a Jan. 6, 2017 attack.
The Alaska resident has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but was found competent to stand trial. Prosecutors also charged he aggravated his mental illness by abusing hallucinogenic drugs after returning from Iraq, where he served with a National Guard unit.
According to the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Santiago was asked by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom at his May hearing why he had gone on a shooting spree.
“Umm, I don’t know. I wasn’t really thinking about it at the moment,’’ he responded. “A lot of things were going on in my mind. Messages.”
On Friday, Santiago limited his responses to the judge’s questions to “Yes,’’ and, “No,’’ although his lawyers have said he has shown remorse.
Bloom referred to his onslaught as “85 seconds of evil’’ and told him, “It is difficult, if not impossible, for this court to separate the evil in your acts from the evil in the man.”
The Sun Sentinel reported that all the victims’ relatives told prosecutors they did not want Santiago to face the death penalty, for a variety of reasons. Amid their grief, some of them expressed a certain amount of compassion for the former Army reservist.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg had the victims and their families in mind in his statement announcing the sentencing.
“While nothing can ever heal the wounds inflicted by the defendant’s unspeakable and horrific acts of violence,’’ Greenberg said, “we hope that the life sentence imposed today provides at least some sense of justice for the victims and their loved ones.”