Gunman in 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences
The gunman who killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences in federal prison Friday.
The punishment comes nearly four years after Patrick Crusius, 24, drove 10 hours from Allen, Texas to El Paso to gun down Hispanics in an attempt to ward off what he called a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” in an online posting.
Federal district judge David Guaderrama handed down the punishment after two days of victim impact statements where relatives of the victims unleashed on the gunman, calling him a gutless racist who upended the lives of dozens of El Pasoans solely for living in a city that is predominantly Hispanic.
Crusius pleaded guilty on Feb. 8 to 90 federal hate crime and firearm charges. Part of the agreement between his attorneys and prosecutors included accepting the 90 life sentences – one for each count in the indictment, according to the Department of Justice. Guaderrama said he’d recommend Crusius serve his time at the super-maximum security, or Supermax, detention facility in Colorado.
When Crusius was being led out of the room, one of the family members of the victims shouted at the gunman: “We will see you again, coward!”
Shooter’s mental state called into question
Before Guaderrama read aloud the sentence, defense attorney Joe Spencer said he hoped the conclusion of the federal proceedings would bring some closure to the families and the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez region. But he added that Crusius’ mental health issues fueled the beliefs that led to the rampage. The shooter suffered from Schizoaffective disorder, he said.
“In Spring of 2019 Patrick knew that something was not right in his brain,” Spencer said. “No one was aware of the delusions that overcame him.”
Spencer said that in in late June of 2019 Crusius’ mother contacted the Allen Police Department and expressed concern about her son’s mental health and the fact that he recently purchased a semi-automatic weapon.
Because he was of the legal age in Texas – 18 or over – to purchase the firearm, there was nothing police could do.
Spencer later asked the judge to recommend the gunman receive mental health evaluations during his prison terms, which Guaderrama agreed to.
But Ian Hanna, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted Crusius, said the gunman knew full and well what he was going to do even before he arrived in El Paso.
“This was a calculated, premeditated attack with every detail … laid out in a document of his own creation,” Hanna said, referring to the screed Crusius posted online minutes before the shooting. “He wanted to eliminate a class of people. It was a strike against the essence of what makes this community so special and that is its people.”
While Friday’s sentencing concludes at the federal level, Crusius still faces state charges. A timeline on when that trial will begin is unclear, but El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks told reporters Thursday that the federal process will have no effect on his office’s prosecution efforts.
“Nothing that happens in the federal courthouse will affect what happens in the state courthouse. We are still going to be prosecuting the Walmart shooter, we are still going to be seeking the death penalty,” he said. Crusius is expected to be back in state custody this fall, Hicks said.
In the shooting’s immediate aftermath, there was considerable attention paid to the gunman’s description of immigration into Texas as a so-called invasion and how elected officials, mainly Republicans, characterized the situation.
Days after the tragedy it was revealed that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign sent a mailer dated one day before the shooting imploring Texans to “take matters into their own hands.” Abbott later said “mistakes were made” but never took full responsibility for the language included in the campaign literature.
In the four years since, however, Abbott and other Republicans have repeatedly embraced similar rhetoric.
Shortly after President Biden took office, Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, a state-led border security mission that has deployed thousands of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and National Guard units to the border in response to the near-record levels of unauthorized immigration that’s occurred under the Biden administration.
In November 2022, Abbott released a statement on the operation’s expanded efforts where he said that he outlined to state agencies “the need for the Operation Lone Star partners to defend Texas against what amounts to an invasion of America's southern border.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the criticism he’s received for adopting language similar to what Crusius used. And his office did not respond to a separate request for comment on the sentencing Friday afternoon.
Local officials have applauded the sentencing while recognizing that the victims’ families will feel the effects of the tragedy for the rest of their lives.
“While this week’s federal sentencing is an important step toward justice for the horrific tragedy of August 3, 2019, for many El Pasoans, it will also mean re-living the trauma of that day and every day that followed,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, said in a statement. “Many of the survivors still live with significant physical and emotional pain and unfair financial burdens; the victims’ families still feel grieve the loss of their loved ones; and, the racist motivation behind the hateful attack remains incomprehensible.”
State Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said in a statement that the sentencing was a “significant” step toward achieving justice.
“While no court ruling or legal process can ever fill the void left by such a tragedy, it is my hope that this sentencing provides some closure and healing for the victims’ families,” he said. “Today, and every day, we remember the lives that were tragically cut short and hold their memories close to us. Together, we continue to stand El Paso Strong.”
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