LAX Sign. Photo by John Schreiber.
LAX Sign. Photo by John Schreiber.

Attorneys for the 24-year-old suspect accused in a deadly shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport raised the specter of a mental health defense for the first time Monday in court, indicating that such an argument may be used in their attempt to save their client from the death penalty.

Paul Anthony Ciancia could be executed if he is convicted of killing federal Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez during the Nov. 1, 2013, attack that also left three other people wounded — two other TSA workers and one traveler.

According to a proposed trial schedule, jury selection is set to start on Jan. 25, 2016, with interviews to begin about a month later for death- qualified potential jurors.

Both sides today discussed a schedule for when the defense would file notice of their intent to possibly use mental impairment as part of their case.

Prosecutors filed papers with U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, requesting that he rule on a deadline for the notice to be lodged with the court. A decision is expected within a week.

Gutierrez warned attorneys to stop making references to the slow-moving Boston Marathon bombing trial, in which jury selection began Jan. 5 with more than 1,300 potential jurors filling out questionnaires.

“I don’t think we’re going to have anywhere near the problems (of Boston) that have been reported in the newspapers,” the judge said.

The jury selection process in Boston should not be compared to Los Angeles because the Southland jury pool is so much larger, Gutierrez said.

Also, the judge said, “many jurors (in the Los Angeles area) don’t read the newspapers or watch the TV news,” issues that have apparently hampered the Boston case.

Ciancia allegedly stormed into Terminal 3 at LAX with an assault rifle after “substantial planning and premeditation,” according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.

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 committing an 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 he 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.

Defense filings have mentioned a psychiatrist visiting the defendant at the federal detention facility where he is incarcerated.

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 dozens of rounds of ammunition, along with a handwritten, signed note saying he wanted to kill TSA agents and “instill fear in their traitorous minds.” 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 last August 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.

City News Service

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