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Federal prosecutors to seek death penalty in LAX shooting

Associated Press • Jan 2, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the man charged in a deadly shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport, according to court papers filed Friday.

Paul Ciancia acted intentionally in the killing of an airport screening officer and terrorized passengers and colleagues of the fallen man, prosecutors said.

"Ciancia acted with the intent that his crimes would strike fear in the hearts of Transportation Security Administration employees," Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wrote. "By committing his crimes on a weekday morning in a crowded terminal at one of the busiest airports in the world ... Ciancia terrorized numerous airline passengers and airport employees by causing them to fear for their lives and experience extreme emotional distress."

Ciancia, 24, has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in the killing of Gerardo Hernandez, 39, and the wounding of three other people at LAX on Nov. 1, 2013. The New Jersey native is due in court Monday and lawyers are expected to discuss a trial date.

A call to Ciancia's lawyer was not immediately returned.

The shooting caused chaos and terror as security screeners fled their posts among a hail of bullets and passengers ran for cover. The airport was crippled most of the day and flights across the country were interrupted.

Although officers quickly shot Ciancia and arrested him, it took hours to search the rest of the airport and determine there were no accomplices.

The decision to seek the death penalty, which had to be approved by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, was based on several factors, according to the filing:

— Ciancia engaged in violence that he knew could be deadly and he intended to kill Hernandez.

— The killing was premeditated, he intended to kill multiple people, and it occurred during another crime: violence at an international airport.

— The killing harmed the family, friends and colleagues of Hernandez and terrorized passengers and airport workers.

Ciancia, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, walked into the terminal, drew a .223-caliber assault rifle from a duffel bag and repeatedly shot Hernandez at an initial checkpoint, authorities said. As he headed up to a passenger screening area, he turned back to see Hernandez move and returned to shoot him again, they said.

At the baggage screening checkpoint, Ciancia shot and wounded two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, according to investigators. A handwritten letter found in his duffel bag said he wanted to kill multiple TSA officers and "instill fear in your traitorous minds," they said.

The shooting exposed security lapses throughout the airport and led to changes in how emergency workers respond to such incidents after Hernandez lay on the floor without medical attention for 33 minutes.

A judge wants the case to be tried this year, but lawyers have said it could take longer to prepare if it is a death penalty case.

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