EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A federal judge on Friday sentenced Patrick Wood Crusius to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The man who shot 23 people dead and left another 22 injured on the morning of Aug. 3, 2019, at an El Paso Walmart will serve 90 consecutive life prison terms for committing hate crimes resulting in murder, hate crimes involving an attempt to kill and for using firearms to commit murder and violence.
The killer, whose odd behavior during the three-day hearing puzzled and infuriated relatives of the victims, did not address the court on Friday. But his lawyer Joseph Spencer read a statement on his behalf saying Crusius has suffered from mental illness since he was a child and is schizophrenic.
Nonetheless, Spencer said his client took responsibility for his actions and the harm he caused. At the defense’s request, Senior U.S. District Judge David C. Guaderrama agreed that Crusius, 24, serve the sentence at the maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado.
“He’s suffering mental illness. He’s not getting the proper medication. He’s getting some medication at the jail but he’s not getting the right medication we’re trying to get him to control his psychotic thoughts.” Spencer told reporters after coming out of the federal courthouse in Downtown El Paso. “The reactions you may have seen (inside the courtroom) are part of his condition.”
Crusius appeared casual and detached throughout the hearing, rocking in his swivel chair and moving his head sideways and back and forth while witnesses were on the stand. Some of the relatives accused him of smirking and rolling his eyes during their impact statements.
“Because of his mental condition, he gets very nervous. The facial expressions are not those of a normal person,” Spencer said.
Relatives of the victims don’t believe Crusius is taking responsibility for his actions, nor that mental illness was behind the mass killings.
“When the lawyers on our behalf (the prosecutors) spoke, I looked at his expression and there was no tears, there wasn’t anything as far as showing remorse. So, I don’t buy any of that crap,” said Dean Reckard, the son of Walmart fatal shooting victim Margie Reckard. “He lied before and he’s lying now.”
Spencer said people should not look for reason “in a house of madness,” and that his client’s brain is “broken.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Hanna said there is no indication that Crusius lacked the capability to understand what he was doing.
“We reject that he didn’t know what was happening because of mental illness,” Hanna said in court. He added the defendant had plenty of time to think about what he was doing during the long drive to El Paso, and that he posted an online manifesto first, and 17 minutes later started shooting.
Further, he purchased the murder weapons almost seven weeks prior to the shooting, he said.
Investigators maintain that Crusius secured an assault-type rifle and posted an online manifesto against the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” before driving 10 hours from Allen, Texas, to El Paso to “kill Mexicans.”
“He failed in his mission to hate, divide and separate. He failed because people in this community will never let him succeed. That failure, his failure, will bring hope,” Hannah said.
But Spencer said he does not believe Crusius is a racist.
“When I first went to see him, on Aug. 4, 2019, and I (found out) what had happened, I told him, ‘Patrick, my name is Joe Spencer. My last name may be Spencer, but my ass is 100% brown. I’m Hispanic. Do you have a problem?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not a racist.”
Crusius next has to face trial on state charges. El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks on Thursday said he expects the state to take custody of the mass shooter in October. The “custody” part is a technicality, meaning he can be in a federal prison and be called to state proceedings either remotely or in person.
Hicks said state prosecutors will seek the death penalty on one count of capital murder involving multiple victims, and 22 counts for aggravated assault.
Crusius’ lawyer says a state gag order prohibits him from commenting on the state case. But, he stated that seeking the death penalty will only delay closure for the community.
“We don’t believe that any jury in this country will give Patrick Crusius the death penalty because of the mitigating evidence that we have, that we produced to the federal government, which is quite capable of making an evaluation,” Spencer said. “They don’t worry about calling a press conference to say, ‘I want the death penalty, we should have the death penalty’ and then they’re going to run for office,” Spencer told reporters outside the courthouse. “That is the difference between the state process and the federal government process.”
Spencer said lawyers know death penalty cases take years to go to trial and reach a resolution, and if the defendant is found guilty the appeals process can take decades and “millions and millions” of taxpayer dollars.
“It may take decades before this community reaches judicial finality. And that is outrageous. […] It is true (we) are morally opposed to the death penalty, but in this case, there has been a history of severe mental illness.”
KTSM reporter Stephanie Shields contributed to this story.