Not guilty, LAX shooting suspect says

LOS ANGELES — In a raspy voice that barely registered above a whisper, the man accused of opening fire in a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges connected to the attack that left a security officer dead.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, was arraigned on 11 federal counts stemming from the Nov. 1 shooting rampage including murder, attempted murder and charges related to committing violence and using a firearm in an international airport.

Three of the charges — including the killing of Transportation Security Administration screener Gerardo Hernandez — make Ciancia eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors said they have not determined if they will pursue it, and that the final decision rests with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Ciancia was indicted by a federal grand jury last week.

The arraignment hearing was held at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where Ciancia is recovering from injuries sustained when airport police apprehended him. Ciancia had scrapes and bruises on his face and wore a large bandage over his throat.

Observers in the small jailhouse courtroom said Ciancia appeared young for his age and occasionally looked nervous. He declined to have the indictment read in court, acknowledging he had already read it.

Officials said he was still being held at the Rancho Cucamonga jail, east of Los Angeles, because it had the medical facilities he needed. He was shot in the head and leg, and was hospitalized for two weeks before being sent to jail. Officials declined to elaborate on his medical condition, citing federal privacy laws.

At a Dec. 4 hearing U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bristow ordered Ciancia be held without bond.

Authorities said Ciancia, a New Jersey native living in Los Angeles, had a documented hatred of TSA agents and targeted them during the attack. He is accused of fatally shooting Hernandez, 39, who was the first TSA officer to die in the line of duty since the agency was formed in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Two other officers were wounded and Ciancia faces attempted murder charges related to their injuries. A civilian was also injured in the attack, but federal prosecutors did not file attempted murder charges in that person’s case because, unlike the federal officers’, it falls outside their jurisdiction, prosecutors said.

At the hearing Thursday a trial date was set for Feb. 11 in Los Angeles, although prosecutors said there was a high likelihood the date could be pushed back. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said the investigation is still under way to get “a complete picture of what happened.”

Ciancia’s next court appearance is a pretrial hearing set for Jan. 27 in Los Angeles.

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