Los Angeles

LAX Gunman Pleads Guilty, Faces Life in Prison

Ciancia's guilty plea means there will be no need for trial or testimony

The man who gunned down airport screening officers at Los Angeles International Airport in the 2013 rampage, formally changed his plea Tuesday to guilty to murder and 10 other charges. Paul Ciancia faces multiple, consecutive life terms, but not the death penalty.

The path to the plea agreement had been cleared when US Attorney General Loretta Lynch agreed with the U.S. Attorney's office not to pursue the death penalty. Ciancia signed the agreement last week, but it did not take effect until he entered the plea in the courtroom.

It is expected multiple consecutive life sentences will be imposed when the 26-year-old unemployed motorcycle mechanic returns to court in two months. 

Ciancia admitted to killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, and wounding two of Hernandez's colleagues and a traveler.  

Evidence the prosecution had intended to present at trial included a text message from Ciancia to a family member in which he described himself as a "pissed off patriot trying to water the tree of liberty."

Still not clear is the origin of Ciancia's rage, why he focused it on TSA personnel, and why he chose to stage the attack at LAX. Ciancia had grown up in New Jersey and had moved to Los Angeles barely a year before his rampage.

All three of the surviving victims were present in court.


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Afterwards, TSA Agents Tony Grigsby and James Speer said they were satisfied with the plea agreement, but have no sympathy for Ciancia.

"He caused a lot of pain to a lot people," said Grigsby. "I will never get my friend back."

"More than anything, I empathize with the Gerardo Hernandez family," said Speer.

Ciancia's guilty plea means there will be no need for trial or testimony. But in the courthouse courtyard, Grigsby and Speer for the first time publicly shared details of the accounts to which they would have testified.

After the shots rang out, both Grigsby and Speer evacuated travelers away from the TSA screening station in Terminal 3.

"I refuse to be a victim," said Grigsby, who was wounded in the ankle. "During that ordeal I made decision to help people and run back to help people. And I stand by that decision."

Speer described getting travelers down the terminal, and staying behind to help one man.

"Just as I'm down the hallway, just as I thought we're safe, I actually saw Brian Ludmer to the right of me get shot  he didn't go out the gate — and before, a split second before I could say, 'Oh my God," a split second later I felt 'boom, boom' in the back and left upper arm. I was thrown forward from the blast," Speer recalled.

Ludmer, who was at the airport as a traveler, has also recovered from his injuries and was also present in court for Ciancia's plea.

Speer got into a Hudson's bookstore and prepared to confront the gunman, but the gunman did not come in.

Speer later made his way out of the terminal, and with the airport lockdown, had to wait nearly half an hour before he could get medical care.

Both Speer and Grigsby have recovered and returned to work, Speer in an administrative capacity, Grigsby back working a terminal. His mother and sister also work as TSA agents.

From the ordeal, Grigsby has taken a renewed vigilance for his job and protecting air travelers, he said.

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