A self-described white nationalist who wrote that Hispanics were “invading” America before fatally shooting 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso was sentenced on Friday to 90 consecutive life terms for his conviction on federal hate crimes charges.
For two days this week, relatives of victims confronted the gunman during an emotional hearing in federal court, where they called him a coward and described some of the gaping wounds caused by the AK-47-style rifle that he used in the shooting, which also left 22 people injured.
Several of the victims’ relatives had hoped the gunman, Patrick Crusius, would be sentenced to death. Texas prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty when the gunman is tried on murder charges in state court later this year. “Life sentence is not justice for you,” Luis Juarez Jr., who lost his father in the massacre, told the gunman.
The federal sentencing in the attack, one of the deadliest on Latinos in U.S. history, follows a plea agreement in February that recommended that the defendant be imprisoned for life in exchange for pleading guilty to hate crimes and weapons charges.
The district attorney in El Paso, Bill Hicks, told reporters on Thursday that he owed it to the aggrieved families to bring state capital murder charges. “It is a tremendous burden,” he said.
Mr. Hicks said he expected the gunman to be turned over to state custody by October or November for the murder trial. “We will be pursuing the death penalty,” he said.
After the sentencing on Friday, Dean Reckard, whose mother was killed in the shooting, stood up and yelled at the gunman: “We will be seeing you again, coward. No apologies, no nothing.”
The defense attorney, Joe Spencer, said his client was suffering from “severe mental illness” when he committed the crimes. He said that at a young age, Mr. Crusius heard voices and felt presences that were not there, and was eventually diagnosed with a mental illness.
“Patrick acted with his broken brain, centered in delusions,” Mr. Spencer told the court.
The lead prosecutor, Gregory McDonald, rejected that notion and said the gunman was motivated by an ideology of hatred. “When he went in there and looked at the barrel of his rifle,” Mr. McDonald said, “he wanted to eliminate a class of people. He failed.”
The crime occurred on Aug. 3, 2019. Prosecutors say the gunman drove to El Paso from Allen, Texas, a city near Dallas, and attacked the Walmart store, which is in a popular commercial district near the Cielo Vista Mall, a retail complex with dozens of restaurants and stores that is usually crowded on weekends.
The gunman stalked shoppers and employees in the aisles and behind the cash registers. He shot a couple who had been married for 70 years, a 15-year-old boy who had dreamed of joining the Border Patrol and a young mother who was shielding her infant son.
Mr. Crusius surrendered to a Texas state trooper who pulled him over, telling the trooper, “I’m the shooter.”
Moments before the attack began, the gunman published a hate-filled manifesto online that promoted a claim, widely espoused by white supremacists, that wealthy and powerful people facilitated immigration from mainly Black and brown countries to replace white people in the United States and Europe.
He told police officers after his arrest that he identified as a “white nationalist” and wanted to kill Latinos because “they were immigrating to the United States.” El Paso was his target, he told them, because it was a Latino-majority city with strong cultural ties to the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez just across the border.
El Paso has long been seen as an Ellis Island of the Southwest, a destination for migrants from all over the world who want to enter the United States. Immigrants make up about a quarter of the city’s population.
The sentencing on Friday was a rare legal proceeding against a gunman in a mass shooting. Many such attacks end with the gunmen dying in confrontations with the police or taking their own lives.
Last year, a jury sentenced to life in prison the young man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In 2015, a jury sentenced the man who killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., to life in prison with no chance of parole. Two years later, a federal jury recommended the death penalty for a white supremacist who gunned down nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.
During the three-day hearing this week in El Paso, the gunman appeared defiant at times, smiling and nodding his head when relatives of victims hurled insults at him.
At one point, Mr. Reckard, whose mother was battling Parkinson’s disease when she was killed, asked the gunman to look at photos of her that were displayed on several screens in the courtroom. Mr. Crusius craned his neck to see.
“Do you sleep good at night?” Mr. Reckard asked him, his voice trembling with anger.
The gunman nodded.
“Are you sorry for what you did?”
This time the gunman nodded yes.