Updated Monday, Jan. 5 – 3:40 pm
The federal death-penalty trial of the man accused in a deadly shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport will likely take place next year, attorneys said today.
Paul Anthony Ciancia faces a possible death sentence if he is convicted of killing federal Transportation Security Administration officer Gerardo Hernandez during the Nov. 1, 2013, shooting spree that also left three other people wounded — two other TSA workers and one traveler.
During a brief court hearing, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez said he believed the case could potentially be tried as early as this November, but said he could be convinced to accept the proposed February 2016 start date.
“We will do everything we can do to be ready that date,” Federal Public Defender John Littrell said, adding that the defense may ask for even more time to prepare.
The judge also outlined plans to have potential jurors questioned about their feelings about the death penalty in person rather than in a questionnaire.
“I’m not crazy about questionnaires,” Gutierrez said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said jury selection in the Ciancia case would be “more elaborate” than usual, “as circumstances in Boston illustrate,” referring to the ongoing process of wading through some 1,200 prospects to pick a 12-person jury to hear the death penalty trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Ciancia, who stands a little over 5 feet tall, was brought to court in green and white jail clothing, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles. The judge allowed the removal of the handcuffs during the hearing, and the defendant sat silently and motionless during the proceeding.
Defense attorneys made no comment outside court.
Trials involving a potential death sentence are rare in federal court.
Three charges in the 11-count indictment against Ciancia carry the potential for execution: murder of a federal officer, use of a firearm that led to the murder and act of violence in an international airport.
“Ciancia acted with the intent that his crimes would strike fear in the hearts of Transportation Security Administration employees,” Fitzgerald wrote in court papers. “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.”
The alleged shooter “intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person,” and Hernandez “died as a direct result of the act,” the prosecutor wrote.
Ciancia allegedly shot Hernandez at a lower-level LAX passenger check-in station in Terminal 3 and began walking upstairs but returned when he realized Hernandez was still alive and shot him again, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors wrote in court papers that the crime involved “substantial planning and premeditation.”
In addition to first-degree murder, the indictment charges Ciancia with two counts of attempted murder for the shootings of TSA officers Tony Grigsby and James Speer. Brian Ludmer, a Calabasas teacher, was also wounded.
Court files gave no indication of the nature of Ciancia’s defense.
Ciancia is also charged with committing acts of violence at an international airport, one count of using a firearm to commit murder and three counts of brandishing and discharging a firearm.
During the rampage, Ciancia was allegedly carrying a handwritten, signed note saying he wanted to kill TSA agents and “instill fear in their traitorous minds,” along with dozens of rounds of ammunition. Witnesses to the shooting said the gunman asked them whether they worked for the TSA, and if they said no, he moved on.
Ciancia — a New Jersey native who had been living in Sun Valley — was shot in the head and leg during a gun battle with airport police. He spent more than two weeks at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center before he was moved to a San Bernardino facility and subsequently to the downtown Metropolitan Detention Center, where he remains held without bail.
Prosecutors told the judge previously that they had accumulated about 10,000 pages and 150 DVDs of discovery in the case, including material collected during a probe of Ciancia’s background in the small town of Pennsville, New Jersey, which they had presented to the defense.