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Judge says accused Florida airport shooter is mentally sound for trial

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An Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people in a shooting at a Florida airport this year appears mentally fit to stand trial despite psychiatric health issues, a federal judge said on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said she would not order a mental competency evaluation for Esteban Santiago after his lawyers said he was taking prescribed anti-psychotic medication and participating in his defense.

“He has been increasingly engaged and present during each of his sessions with his lawyers,” said Bloom, who sits in the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

Santiago, 26, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder after his arrest, according to court documents.

Authorities say he opened fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6 in one of the nation’s most recent deadly mass shootings.

Santiago has pleaded not guilty to 22 criminal charges, including violence at an airport causing death and injury, and firearms crimes.

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Bloom told Santiago she would hold monthly status hearings to ensure that he continues taking his medication and remains competent.

Santiago, shackled and in a beige jumpsuit, said he understood the hearings were intended “to see if I’m mentally capable for trial.”

If convicted, he could be punished by life imprisonment or death. The U.S. attorney general ultimately would decide whether to seek a death sentence.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors said in court it could take as long as a year to vet the factors involved in that decision.

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A trial scheduled for October could be delayed, Bloom said.

A private first class in the National Guard who served in Iraq from 2010 to 2011, Santiago traveled from Alaska to Florida on a one-way airline ticket with a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage, according to authorities.

He claimed his gun case upon arrival and loaded the weapon in a men’s bathroom, investigators said in a criminal complaint. Santiago opened fire on the first people he saw after leaving the restroom, it said.

Authorities said Santiago aimed at victims’ heads and bodies until he ran out of ammunition and was taken into custody. Six people also were wounded in the attack.

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Santiago told investigators he was inspired by the Islamic State militant group and had previously chatted online with Islamist extremists, according to FBI testimony previously presented in court.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)

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2020 Election

WATCH: Katie Porter explains to constituents why her conscience demands support for Trump impeachment inquiry

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Congresswoman Katie Porter, in a video posted on social media Monday night, shared with residents of her purple California district why she is joining dozens of other Democrats who support launching an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

"I didn't come to Congress to impeach the president," said the first-term representative. "But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution. I can't claim to be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all of the work I do."

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2020 Election

Bernie Sanders calls fact that minimum wage worker cannot afford 2-bedroom apartment in any US state ‘a national disgrace’

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For a decade, U.S. lawmakers have kept the federal minimum wage at a level which increasingly leaves workers unable to afford housing.

That's according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). The group's 30th annual study of housing affordability found that a worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25—which is unchanged since 2009—cannot afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state, metropolitan area, or county in the United States.

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There is growing concern that China is trying to use universities to silence its critics in the West

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This is an important year in Chinese history. It marks the anniversaries of two political movements involving students and scholars: the May Fourth Movement and the Tiananmen Square protests – known in China as the June Fourth Incident.

The May Fourth Movement of 1919 challenged traditional Chinese values and authorities and demanded freedom of speech and democracy. Seventy years later – and 40 years after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had taken power – students, scholars, and other citizens mobilised again in defence of freedom of speech, human rights, and democratic values. But on June 4 1989, the CCP brutally crushed their movement. The crackdown created a legacy of heavily censored wrongs that cannot be righted while the current system lasts.

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