Feds won’t seek death penalty against alleged El Paso Walmart gunman

A memorial at the Walmart where a gunman opened fire on shoppers on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso. Federal prosecutors wont pursue the death penalty against the alleged gunman, who could still face a death sentence in a separate state case. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune, Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune)

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The federal government will not seek the death penalty for the man accused of massacring 23 people in a hate crime at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

“The United States of America hereby notifies the Court and Defendant PATRICK WOOD CRUSIUS that the Government will not seek the death penalty in the instant case,” prosecutors said in a one-sentence filing.

The Justice Department has not sought the death penalty in a new case since Attorney General Merrick Garland took office in 2021. Garland and President Joe Biden have both spoken in opposition to the federal death penalty, and Garland has imposed a moratorium on its use pending a review of policies and procedures.

Patrick Crusius, 24, of Allen, is charged with 23 counts of hate crime resulting in death, 23 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder in a crime of violence, 22 counts of hate crime in an attempt to kill, and 22 counts of use of a firearm during a crime of violence. With the death penalty off the table, the maximum federal sentence he faces is life in prison.

He allegedly killed 23 people and wounded 22 others in an Aug. 3, 2019, attack on the Cielo Vista Walmart. A screed he allegedly posted moments before the attack on a website often used by white supremacists said the attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The trial on federal charges is scheduled for January 2024. He also faces 23 capital murder charges in state court that could carry the death penalty, but no trial date on those charges has yet been set.

Although the Justice Department hasn’t sought the death penalty since Biden and Garland took office, a decision late last year suggested that the Justice Department might continue to pursue the death penalty in terror attacks.

That case involves a 2017 attack in which Sayfullo Saipov killed eight people and injured more than a dozen by plowing a rented pickup truck into a crowded New York City bike path.

The Justice Department under President Donald Trump sought the death penalty against Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who prosecutors said wanted to “further the ideological goals” of the Islamic State.

His defense lawyers asked the Justice Department to withdraw the death penalty in the case, as the office has done 25 times since Garland took office, The New York Times reported.

The Justice Department decided in September 2022 to continue to seek the death penalty. Saipov’s trial began last week in New York City.

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