Judge says accused Florida airport shooter is mentally sound for trial

MIAMI (Reuters) - 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.

RELATED: Scenes from the day of the shooting

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Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
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Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police direct traffic outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Esteban Santiago, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, January 7, 2017.

(Courtesy Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS)

Police question people who are evacuating from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport near the tarmac after airport shooting in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Law enforcement personnel search the grounds after a shoot opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
A man is helped after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. Courtesy Mike Starobinsky/Maxwillsolutions/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Airport security personnel stand in front of one of the entrances to the baggage area of Terminal 2, where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Shooting victims are unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

Broward County Sheriff officers exit from the escalator that takes people from the baggage area of Terminal 2 where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Travelers and airport workers are evacuated out of the terminal after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity
Travelers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement walk outside a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement personnel take cover below a stairwell in a parking garage opposite a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police assist people seeking cover outside of Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People seek cover on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover outsideTerminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover behind cars outside of Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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"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.

SEE ALSO: Florida airport shooting suspect indicted on 22 criminal counts

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

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.

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(Photo credit: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Death row inmate Troy Davis appears in this undated file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Georgia Department of Corrections/MCT via Getty Images)
Anne MacPhail pauses for a moment after learning at 10:55 p.m., on September 21, 2011, that the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution for Troy Davis, who was convicted in the 1989 murder of her son Mark MacPhail. Davis was executed shortly after in Jackson, Georgia. (Robin Trimarchi/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/MCT via Getty Images)

Mugshot of Kelly Renee Gissendaner

(Photo credit: Georgia Department of Corrections)

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

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.

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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