US man gets 90 life sentences for racist El Paso Walmart attack

Patrick Crusius, who killed 23 in an anti-immigrant attack that targeted Hispanic shoppers, still faces state charges.

Walmart shooter in court in 2019
El Paso Walmart shooter Patrick Crusius, seen here in October 2019, still faces Texas state charges that could result in the death penalty [File: Briana Sanchez/Pool via The El Paso Times/AP Photo]

A judge in the United States has sentenced a man to 90 consecutive life terms in prison for a racist 2019 mass shooting that targeted Hispanic shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and left 23 people dead.

US District Judge David Guaderrama handed down the sentence on Friday to Patrick Crusius, who pleaded guilty in February in exchange for avoiding a federal death sentence.

Crusius still faces Texas state charges that could result in the death penalty.

“You left children without their parents, you left spouses without their spouses, and we still need them,” Bertha Benavides, whose husband was killed in the massacre, told Crusius during emotional impact statements by victims delivered in court earlier this week.

Prosecutors said Crusius drove more than 1,126km (700 miles) overnight from suburban Dallas to the US-Mexico border city of El Paso, carrying out the massacre on August 3, 2019, with a Romanian derivative of the AK-47 and hollow-point ammunition.

The attack was motivated by Crusius’s belief that immigrants from Latin America were carrying out a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas in what he termed “ethnic replacement”, authorities said.

The conspiracy theory that immigration to the US constitutes an effort to replace the country’s white population is common among white supremacists, and it has been linked to other mass shootings.

Depictions of immigrants as “invaders” also have become commonplace among some Republican lawmakers, drawing concern and criticism that the rhetoric and imagery are racist.

In a speech last month, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis warned against an “invasion” at the US border with Mexico as he unveiled a series of hardline, anti-immigration policy goals. Former President Donald Trump also has frequently leaned into such rhetoric.

During the sentencing hearing on Friday, Crusius, who was wearing a jumpsuit and shackles, did not speak and showed no reaction as the verdict was read.

While the 24-year-old entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors in February that took the federal death penalty off the table in exchange for pleading guilty, Texas state prosecutors could still pursue the death sentence.

The sentencing followed two days of emotional testimony from victims, some of whom confronted Crusius directly.

“I want you dead,” Genesis Davila, who was 12 years old and present during the 2019 shooting that killed her soccer coach and wounded her father, told him. “I hate you so much.”

Amaris Vega, whose aunt was killed and whose mother was shot during the attack, mocked Crusius for a “pathetic, sorry manifesto” he posted online just before the shooting in which he pledged to rid Texas of Hispanic people.

“But guess what? You didn’t. You failed,” she told him. “We are still here, and we are not going anywhere.”

A trial date has not been set for Crusius to face charges in Texas state court.

Joe Spencer, Crusius’s lawyer, told the judge before Friday’s sentencing that his client has a “broken brain”. “Patrick’s thinking is at odds with reality … resulting in delusional thinking,” Spencer said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies