Case Profiles: A Look at One of El Paso’s Biggest Criminal Cases

This month, El Paso remembered the horrific day that took everyone by surprise one year ago. It was one August morning when El Pasoans began hearing reports—whether through their social media channels, radio stations, or friends and family— about some very suspicious activity happening at the Walmart on the east side of town. It wouldn’t take long for the entire country to get news of what happened in El Paso, which seemed so chillingly surreal.

It could not happen here. This thought surely passed through the minds of many El Paso residents that know their town as a relatively peaceful place. That day, residents of the borderland would learn the name of Patrick Crusius who would be apprehended that day and charged with the murder of 22-later 23 people. The incoming District Attorney of El Paso will have one of the biggest criminal cases the town has ever seen. So we thought we’d review some of what we know and details of the case. 

Details of the Occurrence 

On August 3rd, 2019 21-year-old Patrick Crusius from Allen, north of Dallas, walked into an El Paso Walmart with an AK-47 and proceeded to indiscriminately shoot at shoppers, employers, and passersby. It was found later, of course, that the targeting was not so indiscriminate, and that Cruscius had actually written a manifesto in which he declared his desire to take action against specifically Hispanic people. Crusius wrote in his manifesto that he “wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible” and claimed that his actions were a reaction to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” 

Initial Details 

When the smoke first cleared, there was a lot of uncertainty as to what had actually happened. Just like any other mass shooting, it caused chaos and conflicting witness accounts seemed to muddle the realities of the case. 

Crusius is charged with hate crimes resulting in death, hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, use of a firearm to commit murder and in relation to a crime of violence, and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The charges relate to the victims that died, the injured, and those that were present at the Walmart that day. On the day of the shooting, Crusius went up to El Paso police officers and told them that he was the shooter. 

The Progression of the Case

The incoming El Paso district attorney will be inheriting one of the biggest criminal cases in the city’s history. She is replacing outgoing DA Esparza, who had been in the position for 28 years. It’s quite the task for incoming DA, Yvonne Rosales, who has had to scramble to try to learn the details of the case in a chaotic time and when the residents of the city are ready to see the case go to trial. Esparza, the outgoing DA, said he would pursue the death penalty, but as he vacates the office, that remains one of the biggest questions about the case. This is a big case of an incoming DA; it is not only one of the biggest shootings in Texas and U.S history, but the death penalty is being pursued. The DA has said, however, that she will fight to keep the case in El Paso County. 

Federal prosecutors have brought their own list of charges against the young suspect. He is facing a litany of state and federal charges, including nearly two dozen counts of capital murder at the state level and 23 counts of hate crimes in relation to the 23 deaths. So while Esparza had said he would pursue the death penalty, federal prosecutors said they would upon conviction. It is unclear, however, which case would proceed first and whether Crusius would be tried by both jurisdictions. 

In recent comments, Rosales said that justice isn’t likely to come soon because of the highly complex nature of the case and the uncertainties that the pandemic has brought to court proceedings. 

The Defense

In a short hearing, Crusius pleaded not guilty. The defense is claiming that Crusius has had lifelong neurological and mental issues and point to his lifelong history of special education. They describe his mental disabilities as “severe.” He has been treated with antipsychotic medication after his arrest for the shooting. 

A recent motion stated that more time was needed for effective counsel investigations. It cited, in part, dozens of witnesses still needing to be interviewed and a number of red flag mitigation themes that require more time.  

As the city approached the one year anniversary, District Attorney Rosales was very aware of the painful memories that would be unearthed for the families. This is part of her concern with having to have two separate trials for the case and, in a sense, making the family relive the tragedy twice. 

There is still a lot to be seen about this case, but one thing is for sure. El Pasoans want to see justice done. 

Here at the Aranda Law Firm, we are watching the case closely. After all, it has impacted our community in profound ways.