Shooter who killed 23 at Texas Walmart gets 90 consecutive life sentences and may still face death penalty

‘Patrick’s thinking is at odds with reality … resulting in delusional thinking,’ defence attorney says of 24-year-old gunman

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 07 July 2023 19:31 BST
Related video: Texas gunman to be sentenced for killing 23 in racist Walmart attack

The white gunman who shot and killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in a racist attack on Hispanic customers has been sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences for the 2019 massacre.

Patrick Crusius, 24, pled guilty earlier this year to almost 50 federal charges of hate crimes – one of the largest hate crime cases in the US.

Crusius was wearing a jumpsuit and shackles and didn’t visibly react as the verdict was announced, the AP noted.

Patrick Crusius in court (AP)

He drove more than 700 miles from his Dallas-area home in order to attack Hispanics with an AK-style rifle at the Walmart, where the shooting took place inside and outside the store, according to police.

Just before he started shooting on 3 August 2019, Crusius posted a racist message online saying that Texas was at risk of a Hispanic “invasion”.

He said he “wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible”.

Republicans have in the years that have passed since the massacre described migrants crossing the US-Mexico border as an “invasion” and dismissed critics arguing that the rhetoric spurs anti-immigrant opinions as well as violence.

Crusius pled guilty in February after federal prosecutors removed the possibility of the death penalty. But prosecutors on the state level in Texas have said that they will attempt to place Crusius on death row at his state court trial, a date for which is yet to be set.

Defence lawyer Joe Spencer told the judge ahead of the sentencing that the 24-year-old’s brain was “broken” and that he was disconnected from reality.

“Patrick’s thinking is at odds with reality … resulting in delusional thinking,” the attorney said.

US District Judge David Guaderrama in El Paso handed down the sentence after impact statements lasting two days by relatives of the victims.

Twenty-three people were killed and more than two dozen were injured and others suffered trauma. Family members addressed Crusius directly.

Mourners visit a makeshift memorial near the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, following the mass shooting (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“You left children without their parents, you left spouses without their spouses, and we still need them,” Bertha Benavides said. She lost her husband, Arturo, after 34 years of marriage.

Crusius initially didn’t show much emotion during the statements, but on Thursday, his eyes appeared to well up as victims spoke about the shooting and demanded that he respond and account for what he did. After speaking to his lawyer, Crusius made a gesture to indicate that he wouldn’t reply.

During the sentencing, Crusius’s family wasn’t present. A dozen mass shootings have been connected to hate crimes since 2006, with this one being the deadliest, according to the AP.

Before the shooting, Crusius had tweeted #BuildtheWall and lauded the restrictive immigration policies of then-President Donald Trump. In the rant he posted before the attack, he shared his concerns that Hispanics were going to be in charge of the government and the economy.

Amaris Vega lost her aunt in the shooting and her mother managed to survive despite suffering a wound the size of a softball to her chest.

Amaris Vega told the killer: ‘We are still here and we are not going anywhere’ (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Ms Vega spoke about the gunman’s “pathetic, sorry manifesto” which outlined his intention to get rid of all Hispanics in Texas.

“But guess what? You didn’t. You failed,” she said in court. “We are still here and we are not going anywhere. And for four years you have been stuck in a city full of Hispanics ... So let that sink in.”

Margaret Juarez lost her 90-year-old father in the shooting while her mother was wounded but survived. She noted that it was ironic that Crusius is set to spend the rest of his life behind bars alongside minority inmates.

Others in the room broke into applause when she spoke of their freedom.

“Swim in the waters of prison,” she told the shooter. “Now we’re going to enjoy the sunshine … We still have our freedom, in our country.”

Those killed included a 15-year-old high school athlete and a number of grandparents, with a number of them being Mexican nationals who had crossed into the US on a regular shopping trip.

Alfredo Hernandez’s sister Maribel Hernandez Loya and her husband were killed in the shooting.

“I hate that you’re alive, eating and sleeping. I wish you all the sadness in the world,” Mr Hernandez told Crusius, according to the Texas Tribune.

Stephanie Melendez lost her father David Johnson. Her daughter was at the store with her grandparents at the time of the shooting.

“You showed her evil, you showed her monsters do exist outside of storybooks,” she told Crusius. “I want you to remember my daughter’s cries. I want them to haunt you.”

Mr Johnson’s wife Kathleen said: “He was shot at close range by a coward and there was his innocent blood, everywhere … The pain you have caused is indescribable.”

“I’ve had countless hours of counselling to deal with my PTSD. I don’t know if I’ll be the same, if that’s possible,” she added. “I have to remind myself every day that I’m safe from this killer. There are days when I can’t get out of bed.”

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