A self-described 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.
Over 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 that . also left 22 people injured.
Several of the victims’ relatives hoped that the gunman, Patrick Crusius, would be sentenced to death. Texas prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty when the gunman is tried on murder charges in state court later this year. “A life sentence is not justice for you,” Luis Juarez Jr., who lost his father in the massacre, told the gunman.
The federal conviction in the attack, one of the deadliest against Latinos in U.S. history, follows a plea deal in February that recommended the defendant be sentenced to life in prison in exchange for pleading guilty to hate crimes and weapons charges.
The district attorney in El Paso, Bill Hicks, told reporters Thursday that he owes it to the injured families to bring state capital murder charges. “It’s a huge burden,” he said.
Mr. Hicks said he expected the gunman to be transferred to state custody by October or November for the murder trial. “We will deal with the death penalty,” he said.
After the sentencing Friday, Dean Reckard, whose mother was killed in the shooting, stood up and yelled at the gunman: “We’ll see you again, you coward. No apologies, nothing.”
The defense lawyer, Joe Spencer, said his client was suffering from “severe mental illness” when he committed the crimes. He said that at a young age, Mr. Crusius heard voices and sensed presences that were not there, and was eventually diagnosed with mental illness.
“Patrick acted with his broken brain, centered in delusions,” Mr Spencer told the court.
The chief prosecutor, Gregory McDonald, rejected that notion and said the gunman was motivated by an ideology of hatred. “When he went in there and looked down the barrel of his rifle,” Mr. McDonald said, “he wanted to eliminate a class of people. He failed.”
The crime occurred on August 3, 2019. Prosecutors say the gunman drove to El Paso de Allen, Texas, a city near Dallas, and attacked the Walmart store, which is in a popular shopping district near the Cielo Vista Mall. commercial complex. with dozens of restaurants and shops that are usually packed on weekends.
The gunman stalked shoppers and employees in the aisles and behind the cash registers. He shot a couple who had been married for 70 years, a 15-year-old boy who dreamed of joining the Border Patrol, and a young mother who was protecting her infant son.
Mr. Crusius surrendered to a Texas state trooper who pulled him over, telling the trooper, “I’m the shooter.”
Moments before the attack began, the gunman published a hate-filled manifesto online that promoted a claim, widely supported by white supremacists, that rich and powerful people facilitated immigration from mostly black and brown countries to replace whites in the United States and Europe.
He told police after his arrest that he identified as a “white nationalist” and wanted to kill Latinos because “they immigrated to the United States.” El Paso was his destination, he told them, because it was a Latino-majority city with strong cultural ties to the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez just across the border.
El Paso has long been regarded as the Ellis Island of the Southwest, 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.
The sentencing Friday was a rare legal proceeding against a gunman in a mass shooting. Many such attacks end with the gunmen dying in clashes with the police or taking their own lives.
Last year, a jury sentenced to life in prison the young man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In 2015, a jury sentenced the man who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colombia to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Two years later, a federal jury recommended the death penalty for a white supremacist who shot and killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, SC.
During the three-day hearing this week in El Paso, the gunman appeared defiant at times, smiling and nodding as victims’ relatives insulted 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 displayed on several screens in the courtroom. Sir Crusius craned his neck to see.
“Do you sleep well at night?” Mr. Reckard asked him, his voice shaking with anger.
The gunman nodded.
“Are you sorry for what you did?”
This time the gunman said yes.