The man accused of killing five people and injuring six in a shooting rampage at a Florida airport is competent to stand trial, his attorney has said. Esteban Santiago doesn’t need a psychiatric evaluation, despite indications of mental illness, he added.
“We have met with him hours upon hours. We do not have a concern at this time,” defense attorney Hector Dopico told US District Judge Beth Bloom on Thursday. “One can be profoundly mentally ill, including schizophrenic, and be competent.”
Dopico said his client understood the charges against him and is able to assist in preparing a defense. Bloom initially said she wanted a full psychiatric evaluation on Santiago, 26.
“I want to ensure the court is satisfied he is competent,” Bloom said.
She asked Santiago a series of questions about whether he understood the 22-count indictment against him, whether he knew how the death penalty decision would be made, and whether he was satisfied with his lawyers. He answered “yes” to each question.
According to the indictment, Santiago flew from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with a 9 mn handgun in a box in checked luggage. After landing on January 26, he retrieved the weapon, loaded it in the airport bathroom and came out firing in a baggage claim area. He was arrested after running out of ammunition.
During his court detention hearing last month, the FBI claimed that Santiago said his mind was controlled by the government, and that he had communicated with ISIS members through the dark web.
The Iraq war veteran was hospitalized for five days for mental health problems in November after he turned up at an Anchorage FBI office claiming his “mind was being controlled by the government and he was being pushed to watch terrorist propaganda,” according to Broward County Sun-Sentinel.
Santiago was released from psychiatric care with doctors believing he was stable. He was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and melatonin. Two months later he killed five people during the airport massacre.
Family members said he suffered severe mental health problems following his tour of duty in Iraq.
Santiago has been indicated on 22 federal charges and has pleaded not guilty. Another hearing on the competency issue is set for March 15, with a trial date scheduled for October 2 in Miami.