Federal sentencing hearing for gunman who killed 23 at El Paso Walmart set to begin Wednesday
(CNN) — The gunman who killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, will face the families of his victims during his federal sentencing hearing on Wednesday, as prosecutors seek to have him serve dozens of consecutive life sentences for the August 2019 shooting.
Patrick Crusius, 24, pleaded guilty in February to 90 charges, half of them federal hate crimes.
The massacre was one of the deadliest attacks on Latinos in modern US history, which authorities said he carried out with the sole intent of killing immigrants and Mexicans in the West Texas border city. At least 22 others were injured.
The sentencing hearing began Wednesday morning at the US courthouse in El Paso and could last several days, according to court records. The hearing began with a discussion of the presentence report and an opportunity for the defense and gunman to address the court.
The hearing started at 9 a.m. with presentencing matters in the packed courthouse. Most seats were taken by the families of the victims.
When Crusius entered the courtroom, handcuffed and wearing a blue jumpsuit, the mood in the gallery changed and emotions became palpable.
Crusius later answered, “No, Sir,” when asked by the judge if he would like to make a statement.
Victim impact statements, in which the survivors and loved ones of those killed will testify about the shooting’s lasting fallout, are to begin at 1 p.m. and anticipated to last about two days. It will be the first time the relatives will address Crusius in court, nearly four years after his hate-filled rampage.
Emotions ran high even before the hearing, with Paul Jamrowski, the father of victim Jordan Anchondo, telling reporters, “There’s nothing to tell a person like that,” referring to Crusius.
“What’s done is done,” he said, adding that the matter is in God’s hands.
Jordan Anchondo, who was 24, and her husband Andre Anchondo, who was 23, died while shielding their two-month-old son, Paul, from the gunfire.
“It’s very, very hard,” Jamrowski said. “I mean, you sit there and you think, ‘Man, if you didn’t do what you did, I’d have my child to hug and hold right now.’”
The lives lost that day “will never be brought back,” Jamrowski said. “So how is that justice? And who’s to say what justice is?”
Jamrowski said he has custody of Paul, who is now four, along with Paul’s older sister, Skylin, who will soon turn nine. Jordan and Andre Anchondo also had another young child.
“He’s too young to understand,” Jamrowski said.
The sentencing would take place the morning after victim impact statements are completed, or on the Monday following if they conclude on a Friday, per court filings.
The charges include 23 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, 23 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, 22 counts of hate crimes involving attempt to kill, and 22 counts of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
The shooter initially pleaded not guilty but changed his plea in February after federal prosecutors indicated they would not seek the death penalty. Instead, he will likely be sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences according to his plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
The gunman could still receive the death penalty if convicted on state charges.
Before the attack on August 3, 2019, Crusius left his home in Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb, and drove 11 hours to El Paso, taking with him a GP WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition he’d purchased online weeks earlier, according to the indictment against him.
Shortly before the shooting, Crusius posted to an online message board a racist 2,300-word manifesto in which he espoused anti-immigrant views, opposed “race mixing” and wrote the attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“They are the instigators, not me,” he wrote, per the indictment. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by the invasion.”
Then he opened fire on shoppers at the Walmart Supercenter – a location the US Justice Department said he admitted to choosing in an effort to dissuade Mexican and Hispanic immigrants from migrating to the United States.
At least eight of those killed were Mexican nationals. In pleading guilty, “Crusius admitted he killed and wounded people at the Walmart because of the actual and perceived Hispanic national origin of the people he expected to be at the Walmart,” DOJ said in a news release after his plea.
Crusius still faces charges from state prosecutors who have said they plan to seek the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty to a state capital murder charge, but a trial has yet to be scheduled.
In January, El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks said a trial date will not be set until after sentencing in the federal case, CNN affiliate KFOX reported. The state trial could start in 2024 or 2025, but the schedule will be up to the district court judge, Hicks added.