Death Penalty Issue Delays Accused Airport Shooter Trial

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The trial of Esteban Santiago, who is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding six at Fort Lauderdale’s airport, has been postponed until at least June 11 as prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. Santiago’s trial had been scheduled for Jan. 22 in federal court in Miami, but U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom postponed it Monday. Santiago, 27, who grew up in Puerto Rico and most recently lived in Anchorage, Alaska, has been indicted on 22 charges in the Jan. 6 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Ten of the charges carry a potential death sentence or life in federal prison.

Prosecutors said they will need until late April to make their decision about whether to seek the death penalty or life behind bars. “It’s a time-consuming process … and it should be, given the gravity of this case,” prosecutor Lawrence LaVecchio told the judge. “Everybody wants to get it right.” Santiago’s defense attorneys warned they will need a further delay if prosecutors decide to seek execution. Preparation for a death penalty case takes longer and involves more legal arguments, they said. The judge agreed and said she will discuss the timing of the trial with both sides at a May 1 court hearing, after the prosecution announces its decision. Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg will make a recommendation after consulting with a local committee. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will make the final decision. If the prosecution seeks the death penalty, a federal jury would first have to decide if Santiago is guilty and then decide on the appropriate punishment. The jury’s decision is binding on the judge.

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