A self-styled white nationalist who wrote that Hispanics were « invading » America before fatally shooting 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso was sentenced Friday to 90 consecutive life sentences for his federal hate crime conviction .
For two days this week, relatives of victims confronted the gunman during an emotional hearing in federal court, where they called him a coward and described some of the gaping wounds caused by the AK-47-style rifle he used. in the shooting, which also left 22 injured, including an infant.
Several relatives of the victims had hoped that the gunman, Patrick Crusius, would be sentenced to death. Texas prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty when the gunman is later tried on murder charges in state court. « Life is not justice for you, » he told gunman Luis Juarez Jr., who lost his father in the massacre.
The federal sentencing for the attack, one of the deadliest for Latinos in US history, follows a February plea deal that recommended the defendant be jailed for life in exchange for pleading guilty to hate crimes and hate crime charges. weapons.
El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks told reporters on Thursday it was up to the grieving families to bring the murder charge to the state capitol. « It’s a tremendous burden, » he said.
Mr Hicks said he expected the gunman to be released into state custody by October or November for trial for murder, for which no date has been set. « We will pursue the death penalty, » he said.
After Friday’s sentencing, Dean Reckard, whose mother was killed in the shooting, stood up and yelled at the gunman: “See you again, coward. No apologies, no nothing.
Relatives of the victims cried and hugged in the corridors of the courthouse after the hearing was adjourned. Mr. Crusius showed no emotion as he was escorted from the courtroom.
His defense attorney, Joe Spencer, said his client was suffering from « serious mental illness » when he committed the crimes. He said that at a young age, Mr. Crusius heard voices and presences that weren’t there, and was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition that caused him to have violent thoughts and hallucinations.
« Patrick has been operating with his broken brain centered on delusions, » Mr. Spencer told the court. « We hope we have provided some answers to what seems incomprehensible. »
One of the prosecutors, Ian Martinez Hanna, assistant US attorney, dismissed that idea and said in court that the gunman was motivated by an ideology of hate. He said Mr. Crusius planned the attack well in advance, bought a rifle six weeks before the attack and drove 10 hours to a place where he knew he would be able to find large numbers of Hispanics in one place. “When he walked in and looked down the barrel of his rifle,” Mr. Martinez Hanna said, “he wanted to take out a class of people. He has failed. »
The defendant, he told the court, was « a danger to all of us ».
The crime occurred on August 3, 2019. Prosecutors say the gunman traveled to El Paso from Allen, Texas, a city near Dallas, and attacked the Walmart store, which is located in a popular shopping district next to Cielo Vista Mall, a shopping complex with dozens of restaurants and shops that are usually crowded on weekends.
The gunman stalked shoppers and employees in aisles and behind cash registers. He shot a couple who had been married for 70 years, a 15-year-old boy who dreamed of joining the border police and a young mother protecting her infant son.
Mr. Crusius surrendered to a Texas state trooper who stopped him, telling the trooper, « I’m the one who fired the shot. »
Just over 15 minutes before the attack began, the gunman posted a hate-filled manifesto online promoting a claim widely espoused by white supremacists that the rich and powerful would facilitate immigration from countries mainly blacks and browns to replace whites in the United States and Europe.
He told police officers after his arrest that he identified himself as a « white nationalist » and wanted to kill Latinos because « they were emigrating to the United States. » El Paso was his prime target, he told them, because it was a majority Latino city with strong cultural ties to the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez just across the border.
El Paso has long been seen as a Southwestern Ellis Island, a destination for migrants from around the world who want to enter the United States. Immigrants make up about a quarter of the city’s population.
Friday’s ruling was a rare legal case against a gunman in a mass shooting. Many of these attacks end in gunmen dying in clashes with police or taking their own lives.
Last year, a jury sentenced the youth who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida to life in prison. In 2015, a jury sentenced the man who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Two years later, a federal jury recommended the death penalty for a white supremacist who killed nine black worshipers in Charleston, SC
During this week’s three-day hearing in El Paso, the gunman appeared defiant at times, smiling and nodding as relatives of the victims hurled insults at him.
At one point, Mr Reckard, whose mother was battling Parkinson’s disease when she was killed, asked the gunman to look at photos of her that were being shown on several screens in the courtroom. Monsieur Crusius craned his neck to see.
“Do you sleep well at night?” asked Mr. Reckard, his voice trembling with rage.
The gunman nodded.
« Are you sorry for what you did? »
This time the gunman nodded yes.