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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Man pleads guilty to hate crimes in El Paso massacre that killed 23

By Emily Schmall

A Texas man who fatally shot 23 people and injured dozens more at a Walmart store in El Paso in 2019 pleaded guilty earlier this week to federal hate crimes and weapons charges in connection with the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern United States history.

Lawyers for the gunman, Patrick Crusius, said last month that he would change his plea to guilty days after federal prosecutors notified the court that they would not seek the death penalty. He has agreed to accept a sentence of 90 consecutive life terms, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. Crusius is to be formally sentenced in June.

Crusius, 24, still faces trial on state capital murder charges, for which he could receive the death penalty.

He appeared in U.S. District Court in El Paso on Wednesday afternoon, where he pleaded guilty to all 90 federal charges that he faced, including 45 hate crimes.

“White nationalist-fueled violence has no place in our society today,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement afterward. “By pleading guilty, the defendant has admitted that he murdered innocent people based on their national origin and targeted Hispanics. The Justice Department will continue to use every tool at its disposal to combat hate crimes, hold perpetrators accountable, and seek justice for the victims and survivors.”

Joe Spencer, a lawyer for Crusius, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Wednesday, but he told The El Paso Times that the guilty plea had come as a relief.

“We’re glad that it’s finally done, and he’s glad that it’s finally done,” Spencer said. “There are no winners in this case.”

Crusius, who is white, drove all night from his home in Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, to a Walmart Supercenter in El Paso, a Hispanic-majority border city, on Aug. 3, 2019. He posted an anti-immigrant manifesto minutes before entering the store, where he stalked shoppers down the aisles with a semi-automatic rifle and ammunition that he had purchased online, according to a federal indictment.

“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Crusius said in the 2,300-word manifesto, which detailed a plan to separate America into territories by race. It warned that white people were being replaced by foreigners. The document drew direct inspiration from the mass murder of Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 that left 51 people dead.

In that attack, the gunman published a manifesto online promoting a white supremacist theory called “the great replacement,” which argues that elites in Europe have been working to replace white Europeans with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

As the El Paso Walmart filled with gun smoke and the echoes of gunfire, workers and customers, some bloodied, fled out the doors. Others huddled in the aisles or on the ground. Crusius was taken into custody after surrendering to police outside.

The El Paso attack was the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern U.S. history. It was one of several episodes in 2019 in which aggrieved white men turned to mass murder in service of hatred against immigrants, Jews and others they perceived as threats to the white race.

The FBI has said that more Americans have died in domestic terrorist attacks than international ones since Sept. 11, and that domestic terrorism is increasingly motivated by white supremacist ideology.

A Texas district judge said in October that he would wait for the federal case to conclude before holding a trial for Crusius on state charges of capital murder. The judge issued a gag order, prohibiting prosecutors and defense lawyers from speaking to journalists in that case.

After federal prosecutors said last month that they would not pursue the death penalty, Bill Hicks, the El Paso district attorney, said that his office would. Crusius has pleaded not guilty in the state case, arguing that he was suffering from “severe” neurological disabilities and was “in a psychotic state” when carrying out the attack.

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