Few crimes have caused the degree of national outcry and soul-searching as the killing of 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso last summer.
Now the North Texas man accused of the mass shooting has been charged with hate crimes and nearly 100 federal crimes.
Patrick Crusius has been charged with both federal and state crimes. In February, John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, detailed federal charges against the alleged shooter.
The Texas Tribune reported Crusius already faces capital murder charges brought by the State of Texas. The federal authorities charged him with 22 counts of hate crimes causing death. Bash said 23 further charges involve the intent to kill. He also faces 45 charges of firing a weapon in relation to hate crimes. The U.S. attorney’s office said on conviction, prosecutors will seek either the death penalty or life in prison for Crusius.
At a press conference, Bash warned of a “resurgent threat of racist violence” all across the country.
Crusius is accused of traveling to El Paso to kill Mexicans. He allegedly published a manifesto of hate toward Hispanic Americans and immigrants. According to reports, Crusius told the authorities he drove 10 hours from his home in Allen to kill Mexicans. He is said to have spoken about an invasion. Eight of the people who died on June 19, 2019, were Mexican nationals.
Crusius, 21, pleaded not guilty to the state capital murder charge in October 2019. He has been held without bond since the shooting. USA Today reported he is being kept on suicide watch, isolated from other prisoners.
Bash said the federal prosecution will run concurrently to the state’s. The federal case is distinct from the state’s in that Texas prosecutors are pursuing only one charge that could result in a death sentence. Bash said each of the federal charges of attempted murder or murder carries a maximum penalty of life in federal prison or death.
Bash said under federal law a defendant can be held liable for both federal and state crimes for the same act or set of acts. The Mexican authorities have also expressed a wish to be part of the investigation.
The potential venue and exact timing of the trial are unclear. Although it may be held in El Paso, Crusius and his attorneys could request a change of venue, an issue raised at the state level. Bash said these decisions would be up to the judge in the case.
The El Paso shooting case has parallels with the case of white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. in 2015. Roof was sentenced to death for 33 federal charges including hate crimes in 2017.
Texas has had a hate crimes act on its books since 2001. Although prosecutors seldom used it in the past, the state saw an upsurge in hate crimes in 2018.
Texas enacted the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in 2001. It allows prosecutors to attach a sentencing enhancement to an alleged hate crime, adding prison time if authorities prove the accused acted intentionally out of bias toward the victim’s perceived color, race, religion, disability, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference.
Last year, Texas executed John William King, a racist who, along with two other white men, dragged James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old black man, to his death behind a pickup truck.
Cases like King’s remain rare. Prosecutors are still often reluctant to seek the enhancements associated with the Hate Crimes Act unless a case is high-profile or blatant.