Prosecutors won’t seek death penalty for accused Texas Walmart shooter | El Paso shooting
US federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing 23 people and wounding dozens in a racist shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019.
The Department of Justice disclosed the decision not to pursue capital punishment against Patrick Crusius in a one-sentence notice filed on Tuesday with the federal court in El Paso.
Crusius, 24, is accused of targeting Mexicans. The Dallas-area native is charged with federal hate crimes and firearms violations as well as capital murder in state court. He has pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors did not explain the reason for their decision. Crusius still could face the death penalty if convicted in state court.
The prosecutors’ decision could be a defining moment for the justice department, which has sent mixed signals on policies regarding the federal death penalty that Joe Biden pledged to abolish during his presidential campaign.
Biden is the first president to openly oppose the death penalty. His election raised the hopes of abolition advocates since frustrated by a lack of clarity on how the administration might end federal executions.
The decision comes weeks after Jaime Esparza, the former district attorney in El Paso, took over as US attorney for West Texas.
Esparza said when he was district attorney that he would pursue the death penalty in Crusius’s case. A spokesman for Esparza’s office referred questions to the justice department in Washington, where another spokesman declined to comment.
Crusius surrendered to police after the attack, saying “I’m the shooter” and was targeting Mexicans, according to an arrest warrant. Prosecutors have said he published a screed online shortly before the shooting that said it was “in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.
Lawyers for Crusius did not immediately respond to requests for comment. His case is set for trial in federal court in January 2024.
Although the federal and state cases have progressed along parallel tracks, it is now unclear when Crusius might face trial on state charges.
The district attorney who had been leading the state case, Yvonne Rosales, resigned in November over accusations of incompetence involving hundreds of cases in El Paso and slowing down the case against Crusius.
The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, last month appointed a new district attorney to “restore confidence” in the local criminal justice system.
Federal prosecutors are still pursuing the death penalty in the case of Sayfullo Saipov, who is accused of using a truck in 2017 to mow down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path in New York City. Saipov’s federal capital trial began last week.
The decision to seek death came under Donald Trump, who during his last six months in office oversaw a historic spree of 13 federal executions.
The current attorney general, Merrick Garland, announced a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, but allowed prosecutors to continue to seek the death penalty against Saipov while the department reviewed Trump-era death penalty procedures.