El Paso, Texas
A sentence is expected to be handed down Friday for Patrick Crusius, who has pleaded guilty to dozens of federal charges after massacring 23 people and wounding 22 others at a Texas Walmart in 2019. It was one of the deadliest attacks targeting Latinos in modern US history.
Prosecutors have recommended Crusius, 24, receive consecutive life sentences for each of the 90 federal charges, including hate crimes and firearms offenses, to which he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal.
Before the judge announces the sentence, Crusius’ defense attorney is expected to deliver an allocution – a defendant’s formal address to the court – on behalf of the shooter to the El Paso courtroom.
For Crusius, the punishment to be meted out Friday is just the beginning. He faces a potential death penalty in a separate state case, in which he has pleaded not guilty to capital murder.
Since his sentencing hearing began Wednesday, Crusius has faced dozens of victims’ loved ones and survivors who shared anguished victim impact statements and imparted the lasting effects of the shooter’s actions.
Some victims’ family members became tearful as they confronted Crusius for the first time in court, vilifying him as an “ignorant coward,” an “evil parasite,” a “monster” and “a racist.”
Authorities say Crusius rampaged through the El Paso Walmart with the sole intention of killing Mexican people and immigrants. At least eight of those killed were Mexican nationals, according to Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard. Crusius is also believed to have posted a hate-filled screed online just minutes before the shooting in which he espoused xenophobic and White supremacist beliefs.
Among the 36 people who addressed Crusius on Wednesday and Thursday was a minor who survived the rampage. Wearing an “El Paso Strong” T-shirt, the girl struggled to speak between sobs as she described her terror and enduring pain.
“I used to be a happy, normal teenager, until a coward chose to use violence against the innocent,” she said. “I’m no longer as happy as I used to be.”
A teenage soccer player identified in court as G.A. also recounted the horror of the shooting.
“I still remember everything so clearly, even though I have tried to erase it from my memory,” G.A. said.
The shooter had initially pleaded not guilty to the federal charges but changed his plea in February after prosecutors indicated they would not seek the death penalty. He is now expected to receive 90 consecutive life sentences as part of his plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
The federal sentence, however, may not be sufficient justice for some families, said the father of Jordan Anchondo, who died alongside her husband while protecting their infant during the shooting.
“These lives will never be brought back to life, so how is that justice? And who’s to say what justice is?” said Paul Jamrowski when asked about the sentence Wednesday.
A potential death sentence looms in the separate state trial, which El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks anticipates will be held sometime in 2024 or 2025, but the date has yet to be set by a judge, according to his spokesperson Jennifer Cortes.
Crusius entered the courtroom with shackled hands and feet on Wednesday and Thursday and sat in silence for much of the proceedings as survivors and victims’ families detailed their lasting pain.
But the shooter engaged a relative of a victim for the first time on Thursday, motioning with his head in response to questions asked by Dean Reckard, who lost his mother, Margie.
After Reckard asked the shooter if he sleeps “good at night,” Crusius responded by shaking his head, “No.”
“You haven’t shown signs of remorse,” Reckard continued. “You just wanted to be a copycat?”
Again, Crusius shook his head.
“Are you a White supremacist?” Reckard asked.
The shooter shook his head once more.
“Are you sorry for what you did?”
Crusius then nodded, “Yes.”
At least two speakers admonished Crusius for apparently rolling his eyes at them during their statements.
“You can roll your eyes if you want to. It doesn’t bother me,” remarked Raymond Attaguile, whose brother-in-law David Johnson was killed while back-to-school shopping with his granddaughter.
Johnson’s granddaughter also interrupted her remarks to reprimand Crusius, saying, “You can roll your eyes; you can smile; you can smirk,” before continuing her emotional recounting of the events that day.
Crusius shook his head in response to both admonishments, seemingly denying the actions.
On Thursday, as the hearing was ending, Crusius appeared to be red-eyed and struggling to hold back emotions.
“Take it, feel it. Don’t f**king cry. Your tears mean nothing to me,” Karla Romero, whose mother was killed, told Crusius at one point.
Several of the speakers fondly remembered their slain loved ones as they faced Crusius, becoming emotional as they stood just feet from the shooter.
“You killed my father in such a cowardly way,” Thomas Hoffman said in court Wednesday. “He was not a racist like you.”
Hoffman’s father, Alexander Hoffman, was killed in the 2019 shooting. He was an engineer who migrated to Mexico from Germany in the 1980s, his daughter Elis said in a statement through an attorney. She described her father as a “gentle giant with a big heart.”
“You’re an ignorant coward and you deserve to suffer in jail and then burn in hell,” Thomas Hoffman said. “You are an evil parasite that is nothing without a weapon.”
“I hope God one day finds the heart to forgive you for what you’ve done,” Raul Loya, who is related to one of the victims, said before crying.
Johnson’s daughter, Stephanie Melendez, also addressed Crusius in court Wednesday. Melendez has said Johnson died shielding his wife Kathy and their 9-year-old granddaughter, Kaitlyn, from a hail of bullets.
“I want you to remember my voice. I speak for all the daughters who lost their fathers,” Melendez said. “In your act of hatred, you stole a good man from this world.”
She added, “He will be remembered but you will not.”
The raw emotions from the victims’ families this week were reminiscent of a recent string of dramatic hearings, including the trial and death penalty phase proceedings for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and the sentencing of the Islamic extremist who drove a truck into pedestrians and cyclists on a New York City bike path in 2017.