Federal prosecutors announced today they will seek the death penalty against a 24-year-old suspect accused in a deadly shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport.
Paul Anthony Ciancia allegedly stormed into Terminal 3 at LAX with an assault rifle on Nov. 1, 2013, killing Transportation Security Administration agent Gerardo Hernandez and wounding three others — two other TSA workers and one traveler — after “substantial planning and premeditation,” according to a notice of intent to seek the death penalty filed today in Los Angeles federal court.
Attempts to reach Ciancia’s attorney were unsuccessful. A status conference in the case is scheduled for Monday.
Three charges in the 11-count indictment against Ciancia carry the potential for a death sentence: murder of a federal officer, use of a firearm that led to the murder, and act of violence in an international airport.
Prosecutors wrote that Ciancia “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.”
Ciancia allegedly shot Hernandez at a lower-level LAX passenger check-in station and began walking upstairs, but returned when he realized Hernandez was still alive and shot him again.
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.
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 shooting spree, 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.
At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez was adamant that the case would be tried in 2015, although defense attorney Hilary L. Potashner said that she may ask for more time.
Prosecutors said in August 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, N.J., which they had presented to the defense.
There are no indications in court files of the nature of Ciancia’s defense.