Federal prosecutors have not explained why they will not seek the death penalty, although Patrick Crusius could still face the death penalty if found guilty in state court.
EL PASO, Texas — Federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing nearly two dozen people in the 2019 racist attack on a West Texas Walmart.
The US Department of Justice announced the decision not to impose the death penalty on Patrick Crusius in a one-sentence notice filed Tuesday in federal court in El Paso.
Crusius, 24, is accused of attacking Mexicans during the Aug. 3 massacre, which left 23 people dead and dozens injured. The Dallas native is charged with federal hate crimes and gun violations, as well as capital murder, in state court. He pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors did not explain in their court the reason for their decision, although Crusius could still face the death penalty if found guilty in state court.
The prosecutor’s decision could be a defining moment for the Justice Department, which has sent mixed signals about the federal death penalty policy that President Joe Biden vowed to end during his presidential campaign. Biden is the first president to openly oppose the death penalty, and his election revived the hopes of abolitionists who have since been frustrated by the lack of clarity about how the administration could end federal executions and whether that is the goal.
The decision comes just weeks after Jaime Esparza, a former El Paso district attorney, took over as U.S. Attorney for West Texas. Esparza said when he was district attorney that he would seek the death penalty in the Crusius case. A spokesman for Esparza’s office directed questions to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., where another spokesman declined to comment.
Crusius turned himself in to police after the attack, stating “I shot” and that, according to the arrest warrant, he was shooting at the Mexicans. Prosecutors said that shortly before the shooting, he posted a screed online stating that it was “in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Lawyers for Cruises did not immediately respond to requests for comment. His case is scheduled for federal court hearing in January 2024.
While the federal and state cases have developed in parallel, it is unclear when Crusius could stand trial on state charges.
The district attorney who handled the state’s case, Yvonne Rosales, resigned in November amid allegations of incompetence related to hundreds of cases in El Paso and a slowdown in the case against Crusius. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a new district attorney last month to “restore confidence” in the local criminal justice system.
Federal prosecutors are still seeking a death sentence in the case of Saifullo Saipov, who is accused of using a truck to mow down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path in New York in 2017. Saipov’s trial in the federal capital began last week.
The decision to seek the death penalty in the Saipov case came under President Donald Trump, who oversaw a historic 13 federal executions in the last six months of his tenure. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a moratorium on federal executions in 2021 but allowed U.S. prosecutors to continue seeking the death penalty for Saipov while the department reviews Trump-era death penalty procedures.
Tarm reported from Chicago. Associated Press contributor Alanna Durkin Reacher of Boston contributed.