Quietly and without emotion, Walmart shooting suspect Patrick Crusius pleaded not guilty Thursday in the killing of 22 people in El Paso.
It was his first public appearance since the biggest attack against the Latino community in the U.S. in recent memory.
Crusius’ much-anticipated appearance in court came in front of some of the dozens of injured victims and family and friends of slain victims, solemn with some wearing black. The court appearance was brief, about two minutes. A sullen Crusius uttered few words in a low tone.
A grand jury indicted Crusius last month on one count of capital murder of multiple people, punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Crusius had confessed to police, indicating the defense may be considering an insanity defense.
El Paso County Dist. Atty. Jaime Esparza has said he will seek the death penalty. U.S. Atty. for the Western District of Texas John Bash has said his office plans to indict Crusius on federal hate crime, domestic terrorism and firearm charges.
For some, Crusius’ appearance only reopened wounds and enflamed a debate about how he should be punished if found guilty.
“He not only hurt the victims, but he devastated an entire city and two countries,” said Leticia Mariscal Varela, the cousin of Oliva Rodriguez Mariscal, who was wounded along with other members of her family during the Aug. 3 shooting.
Mariscal said she wants Crusius to spend the rest of his life “conscious about what he did, the horrendous deed. If he’s put to death, he would be rewarded.”
Mariscal said she had no plans to attend the arraignment, nor her cousin.
Geremias Veloz Rocha, 67, who hid behind shopping carts during the rampage, said he also planned to stay away. “The thought of seeing him will renew my nightmares,” he said.
Crusius, a 2017 graduate of Plano High School, has been held at the county courthouse here since the day he walked into a Walmart in East El Paso and cased the store, buzzing with more than a thousand shoppers — the majority of Mexican descent. He returned to his vehicle where he armed himself and went back into the store wearing protective earmuffs and safety glasses and wielding a high-powered assault-style rifle, according to officials who have studied video surveillance of him in the store.
Police believe he posted a four-page manifesto to an anonymous message board minutes before the shootings. It was filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric that detailed plans to stop a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and warned white Americans that foreigners were replacing them.
Police also said Crusius, who turned himself in, admitted during questioning that he specifically targeted Mexicans in the attack. He is being held without bond.
Critics have blamed political leaders, particularly President Trump, for fueling the fires of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino discontent by portraying one of the safest communities in the country as a dangerous no man’s land being invaded by criminal foreigners. Many El Pasoans say they’re being used as political props in his war on immigration.