Airport shooter Esteban Santiago is mentally competent, expected to plead guilty, feds say

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ Airport shooting suspect Esteban Santiago is mentally competent to proceed with the criminal case against him and is expected to plead guilty on May 23, according to court records filed Monday.

Santiago, 28, had previously pleaded not guilty to 22 federal charges linked to the Jan. 6, 2017, mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which left five people dead and six wounded.

Earlier this month, the prosecution and defense announced they had reached an agreement that would allow Santiago to plead guilty to unspecified charges in exchange for spending the rest of his life in federal prison. Prosecutors said they had decided not to seek the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom ordered Santiago to first undergo a mental health evaluation to make sure he understands what he is doing and is legally competent to plead guilty.

“An evaluation was completed … which concluded that the defendant is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense. Therefore, the psychologist who evaluated the defendant concluded that he is competent to proceed with his case,” prosecutors wrote in a court document filed late Monday.

Santiago’s defense team also agrees that he is legally and mentally competent, according to the court record.

The precise terms of the plea agreement, including the exact offenses he would admit, are not expected to become public until Santiago pleads guilty in federal court in Miami. He would have to give up his right to appeal his conviction and punishment, prosecutors said in court.

Survivors and family members of the victims were consulted during the decision-making process, authorities said. Some of the victims’ families told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that they wanted Santiago to spend the rest of his life in prison, rather than face execution.

Santiago, a military veteran who served in the Iraq War, has been locked up since he surrendered in the airport just moments after the mass shooting. He is jailed in the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and has been prescribed medication to treat schizophrenia.

This article provided by NewsEdge.