EL PASO, Texas — The 21-year-old Texan accused in the deadliest attack on Hispanics in recent U.S. history pleaded not guilty to a capital murder charge in a brief court appearance here on Thursday, Oct. 10.
The suspect, Patrick Crusius, was indicted on a single capital murder charge last month, and he stands accused of killing 22 people at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3. The attack also injured 24 others. El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza has said he will seek the death penalty in the case.
Approximately 60 survivors and family members of victims of the shooting were in the courtroom for the two-minute arraignment. It was the first time the suspect, who is jailed without bond, has appeared in court to answer to the capital murder charge. Crusius, dressed in a blue blazer, white shirt and gray slacks, spoke clearly and firmly in responding to District Judge Sam Medrano's brief questions and answering "not guilty" when asked to enter a plea. His next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Crusius' lawyers, Mark Stevens of San Antonio and Joe Spencer of El Paso, offered their first public statements in the case after the hearing, but declined to answer questions.
"The only thing I would like to say is that people who were nowhere near El Paso on August the 3rd, 2019, think they know what happened. People who were nowhere near this place already have made up their mind about what should happen," Stevens said. "As they say, there are two sides to every story, and there are two sides to this story."
Spencer focused on preventing a possible death sentence, saying he and Stevens are morally opposed to capital punishment.
"I believe that the El Paso community needs healing," Spencer said. "The El Paso community needs closure. And the quickest way to get closure and healing is not through seeking the death penalty."
Esparza did not comment after the hearing.
Police say the suspect drove more than 600 miles from his hometown of Allen, Tex., to El Paso on Aug. 3. He allegedly went to a Walmart packed with 1,500 people on a Saturday morning - parents and children doing back-to-school shopping, senior citizens buying groceries, and Mexican nationals who crossed the border to stock up on supplies.
Armed with an AK-47 assault-style rifle, the shooter opened fire on people in the parking lot and continued into the store. The dead ranged in age from 15 to 86. Fifteen of the people who were killed were U.S. citizens, eight were Mexican nationals and one was a German man married to a Mexican woman and living in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Crusius was arrested about 40 minutes after the shooting began as he was driving about a half-mile from the Walmart. Police said in an affidavit that Crusius exited his car when state troopers pulled up behind him, raised his hands and said: "I'm the shooter."
The suspect told police investigators that he was targeting "Mexicans," according to the arrest affidavit. He also allegedly posted a hate-filled statement on the Internet minutes before the shooting began, police have said. The statement warned of a "Hispanic invasion of Texas" and complained that white people were being replaced by foreigners.
The state indictment does not accuse Crusius of a hate crime, but federal prosecutors have said they are considering such charges, which also could carry a potential death sentence if he is convicted.
This article was written by Robert Moore, a freelance journalist based in El Paso.