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Accused Los Angeles airport gunman pleads not guilty

People line up at Terminal 2 ticket counters as access to airport terminal parking lots resumes at Los Angeles International Airport, Califo
People line up at Terminal 2 ticket counters as access to airport terminal parking lots resumes at Los Angeles International Airport, Califo

By Dana Feldman

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, California (Reuters) - The man accused of killing a federal security screener and wounding three other people at Los Angeles International Airport, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of murder and attempted murder.

This was the second court appearance for Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, in connection with the November 1 shooting spree that left him critically wounded after a gunfight with police.

Ciancia, who had a bandage on his neck, spoke softly in a hoarse voice during the arraignment and pleaded not guilty to all charges in an 11-count federal indictment against him. His family was not present at the hearing which was held in a detention facility.

Ciancia is accused of walking into Terminal 3 at the airport, removing a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and opening fire on an unarmed Transportation Security Administration officer standing at the entrance to a security checkpoint.

The TSA agent, Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was the first agent slain in the line of duty since the agency was created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Authorities say Ciancia then stalked past metal detectors through the checkpoint and into the airplane-boarding area, shooting and wounding two other TSA employees and a traveler before he was critically wounded in a gunfight with police at one of the world's busiest airports.

In addition to a single count of murder and two counts of attempted murder of federal officers, Ciancia was indicted on four counts of committing an act of violence at an international airport and four counts of firearms offenses.

The 5-foot-3, 110-pound Ciancia was somber and frequently touched the bandage as he sat before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bristow. He wore a green jail jumpsuit and a gray hooded sweatshirt and was handcuffed and appeared to be shackled at the ankles for hearing.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the central district of California, declined to discuss Ciancia's wounds, citing a federal patient privacy law.

On December 4, Bristow ordered Ciancia held without bond after finding he posed a danger to the community and represented a potential flight risk.

Three charges in the indictment against Ciancia carry a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty; federal prosecutors have not decided yet whether to seek capital punishment if Ciancia is convicted.

Ciancia's hearing was held at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, located east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, because that is where Ciancia is being treated for his injuries.

The detention center has facilities equipped to handle Ciancia's medical needs, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller, whose agency keeps federal inmates under a contract with the U.S. government.

Ciancia is scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on January 27 for a pre-trial hearing.

(Reporting by Dana Feldman; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Leslie Adler and Leslie Gevirtz)

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