By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune
“Gunman in 2019 El Paso mass shooting receives 90 life sentences” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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EL PASO — The 24-year-old gunman who killed 23 people and injured 22 others in August 2019 at a Walmart in his attempt “to shoot as many Mexicans as possible” was sentenced in federal court to 90 consecutive life sentences Friday for his hate crimes. Patrick Crusius of Allen will die in prison.
Crusius sat quietly next to his lawyer, Joe Spencer. He had his arms crossed and didn’t make a statement after the judge asked if he had anything to say.
Spencer told the audience that since the gunman was a child he struggled with his mental health. He was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Spencer said. His symptoms include trouble processing feelings and hearing voices in his head. And since childhood he has felt a presence that is not there, Spencer said.
“Mental illness doesn’t always mean they’re going to hurt themselves or others,” Spencer said. “But some mental illnesses can be debilitating.”
As the gunman grew up, he had violent thoughts about hurting other people, including his therapist and family members, Spencer said. When his mother found out he had purchased a firearm, she contacted the police asking officers to confiscate it because she worried he would harm himself, Spencer said, but police refused because he was an adult and had purchased the gun legally.
Before he committed the shooting, Crusius researched online whether he could enter a mental institution without health insurance, Spencer added.
On Aug. 2, 2019, Spencer said, his client couldn’t control his violent thoughts anymore and drove to El Paso.
“He lost all contact with reality,” Spencer said. “Patrick acted with his broken brain cemented in delusions.”
Ian Martinez Hanna, the federal prosecutor, said that the gunman’s mental health problems were no excuse. Hanna said the gunman had every opportunity to stop himself.
Even with his mental illness, “there’s no indication that he lacked the capability that he understood what he was doing,” Hanna said.
“Let’s not make any mistake about it, he’s dangerous,” Hanna said. “In his mission to sell hate and to divide, he failed.”
A federal indictment issued on July 9, 2020, charged the gunman with 90 counts, including a hate crime resulting in death, a hate crime involving an attempt to kill and the use of a firearm to commit murder. Crusius has been in custody since the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting and pleaded guilty earlier this year.
He drove more than 600 miles from his home in Allen, north of Dallas, to El Paso and began shooting people in the parking lot of a Walmart that was busy with back-to-school shoppers. Then he entered the store and continuing his rampage. The 23 victims who died and 22 others he wounded were mostly Mexican Americans and Mexican citizens from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. One of the victims was a 66-year-old German man, Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann, who moved to Mexico in the 1980s, married a woman from Juárez and settled there.
The victims ranged in age from 15 to 90 years old. It is common for residents of both cities to travel daily back and forth for work, school, visiting family and shopping.
According to the indictment, the gunman uploaded a document to the internet explaining his motive: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by the invasion.”
Before and after the mass shooting in El Paso, some Texas politicians have described the growing number of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border — many of them asylum-seekers fleeing violence and harsh poverty in Central and South America — as an “invasion.” The “ethnic replacement” the gunman wrote about comes from a debunked conspiracy theory that people of color and immigrants are looking to replace white Americans.
The gunman still faces state charges. El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks said Thursday that he plans to seek the death penalty after a trial expected to happen in 2024 or 2025.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the gunman heard from more than 30 relatives of the people he killed. Some relatives asked prosecutors to read their statements in court. Some of them referred to the shooter as an “evil parasite” and a “monster.” Some wished him to rot in his prison cell.
On Thursday, Harry Dean Reckard, whose 63-year-old mother was killed in the shooting, spent part of his birthday in court confronting his mother’s killer.
The gunman had his head down when Reckard told him, “Look at me, man. You’re young and pathetic.”
Crusius shrugged when Reckard noted that he has smiled and rolled his eyes as family members gave their statements.
“Do you sleep good at night?” Reckard asked him.
The gunman shook his head.
Reckard asked the gunman if he was a white supremacist. Again he shook his head no.
“Are you sorry for what you did?” Reckard asked him.
The gunman nodded yes.
Margaret Juarez, who lost her 90-year-old father, Luis Juarez, in the shooting — her mother, Martha Juarez, was wounded — berated him for his beliefs about immigrants on Thursday and gave him a quick history lesson.
“Native Americans and Mexicans were already here before your American settler homies rolled in,” she told him. “Think about that when you say you’re defending your country.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/07/07/el-paso-mass-shooting-crusius-life-sentence/.
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