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White gunman to be sentenced for killing 23 people in a racist Walmart attack in a Texas border city


EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The white Texas gunman who killed 23 people in a racist attack at a Walmart in 2019 is expected to learn his punishment Friday, after victims’ relatives berated him for days over the shooting that targeted Hispanic shoppers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Patrick Crusius, 24, will likely be sentenced to multiple life terms in federal prison for committing one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. However, he could still face the death penalty in a separate case in a Texas state court that has yet to go to trial.

Crusius, who pleaded guilty in February to nearly 50 federal hate crime charges after federal prosecutors took the death penalty off the table, is not expected to make a statement before he is formally sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama.

The sentencing phase was taking place not far from the El Paso Walmart where Crusius opened fire with an AK-style semiautomatic rifle. The attack came after Crusius ranted online, warning of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Some of the victims were citizens of Mexico. In addition to the dead, more than two dozen people were injured and numerous others were severely traumatized as they hid or fled.

Confronting Crusius face-to-face for the first time, several relatives of the victims looked him in the eye and mocked his motivations, telling him his racist pursuits failed.

Amaris Vega, whose aunt was killed and whose mother narrowly survived a softball-sized wound to the chest, railed at Crusius’ “pathetic, sorry manifesto” promising to rid Texas of Hispanics.

“But guess what? You didn’t. You failed,” Vega told him Thursday. “We are still here and we are not going anywhere. And for four years you have been stuck in a city full of Hispanics. … So let that sink in.”

Margaret Juarez, whose 90-year-old father was slain in the attack and whose mother was wounded but survived, said she found it ironic that Crusius was set to spend his life in prison among inmates from racial and ethnic minorities. She garnered applause from other relatives and survivors in the courtroom as she celebrated their liberty.

“Swim in the waters of prison,” she told Crusius. “Now we’re going to enjoy the sunshine. … We still have our freedom, in our country.”

One by one, family members this week described how their lives have been upended by grief and pain. Some forgave Crusius. One man displayed photographs of his slain father, insisting the gunman look at them.

Bertha Benavides’ husband of 34 years, Arturo, was among those killed.

“You left children without their parents, you left spouses without their spouses, and we still need them,” she told Crusius.

During the initial statements from victims, Crusius occasionally swiveled in his seat or bobbed his head with little sign of emotion. On Thursday, his eyes appeared to well up as victims condemned the brutality of the shootings and demanded Crusius respond and account for his actions. At one point, Crusius consulted with a defense attorney at his side and gestured that he would not answer.

The attack was the deadliest of a dozen mass shootings in the U.S. linked to hate crimes since 2006, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

Before the shooting, Crusius appeared consumed by the nation’s immigration debate, tweeting #BuildtheWall and posts praising then-President Donald Trump’s hardline border policies. He went further in his rant posted before the attack, sounding warnings that Hispanics were going to take over the government and economy.

In the years since the shooting, Republicans have described migrants crossing the southern U.S. border as an “invasion,” waving off critics who say the rhetoric fuels anti-immigrant views and violence.

As the sentencing phase got underway, some advocates for immigrant rights made new appeals for politicians to soften their rhetoric on immigration. Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have pushed for more aggressive actions to harden the southern U.S. border.

The people who were killed ranged in age from a 15-year-old high school athlete to several elderly grandparents. They included immigrants, a retired city bus driver, teachers, tradesmen including a former iron worker, and several Mexican nationals who had crossed the U.S. border on routine shopping trips.

Two teenage girls recounted their narrow escape from Crusius’ rampage as they participated in a fundraiser for their youth soccer team outside the store. Parents were wounded and the soccer coach, Guillermo Garcia, died months later from injuries suffered in the attack.

Both youths said they still are haunted by their fear of another shooting when they are in public venues.

“He was shot at close range by a coward and there was his innocent blood, everywhere,” said Kathleen Johnson, whose husband David was among the victims. “I don’t know when I’ll be the same. … The pain you have caused is indescribable.”


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