EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Six months after allegedly murdering 22 people at an El Paso Walmart, the suspected shooter is now facing federal firearms and hate-crime charges, some punishable by the death penalty.
Federal officials on Thursday announced the 90-count grand jury indictment against Patrick Crusius and said it’s based on intent to “frighten and intimidate” Hispanics through the use of extreme violence.
The alleged assailant that same day had published an online manifesto saying the attack was a response to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and claimed to be defending the United States from “cultural and ethnic replacement.”
The victims included American citizens as well as Mexican residents. The shooting shocked communities on both sides of the border and left an emotional scar on the people of El Paso, said John F. Bash, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.
“On the morning after the attack, I explained that this crime met the federal definition of domestic terrorism. It was an attempt to intimidate and coerce a civilian population, and I said we would do at the Department of Justice what we always do to people who perpetrate terrorist attacks on this county: we would deliver swift and certain justice, ” Bash said Thursday at a news conference. “Today marks a significant step in fulfilling that commitment.”
Crusius in September was accused of capital murder by the State of Texas, a charge to which he pleaded not guilty a month later. The Department of Justice will prosecute on a parallel track with state officials. Bash said federal officials will consult with the defense and victims’ families before deciding if they will pursue a death penalty. But he said the final call will be up to Attorney General William Barr.
The federal grand jury that indicted Crusius stated that the crimes were premeditated. He bought a Romanian version of an AK-47-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of hollow-point ammunition online weeks before he drove from his grandparents’ home in suburban Dallas 600 miles southwest to El Paso to allegedly carry out the attack.
Bash said the federal charges fall into two categories: 45 counts of murder or attempted murder under hate-crime laws and 45 counts of using a firearm to commit a crime of violence. Of those, the counts that pertain to people who were shot and survived carry a penalty of life in prison, while those related to those who lost their life carry the death penalty.
Bash explained that U.S. law allows for a person to be prosecuted on state as well as federal charges in connection with the same crime. “He will be prosecuted on parallel tracks,” he said.
The federal official said he met on Thursday with survivors of the shooting and families of the victims to inform them about the indictment and explain what will happen next. Crusius is expected to appear in El Paso federal magistrate court at 10 a.m. on Feb. 12.
Meantime, the Mexican government issued a statement praising U.S. authorities for the federal charges against Crusius. Eight of the dead in the Walmart attack were Mexican citizens.
“The charges announced today strike at hate speech, xenophobia and white supremacy as well as any other act of violence,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in the statement. It added that the Mexican consulate in El Paso will continue monitoring the process and assisting the victims of the attack and their relatives.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who heads the federal government’s Civil Rights Division, said enforcing federal hate-crime laws is important for the protection of people’s rights.
“Hate crimes physically wound and psychologically harm victims. Such crimes seek to intimidate innocent people and groups of people because of who they are,” Deiband said. “These horrific crimes may leave people terrorized, isolated and vulnerable. Federal hate crimes, thus, carry significant value.”
He said any more violence against Hispanics, on the border or anywhere else in the United States, would not be tolerated.
Bash added that his office and the FBI will remain vigilant in identifying genuine threats and trying to prevent them.
The FBI is “constantly processing a stream of threats. some of them are hate-based. There is a constant process of assessment,” Bash said. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are extraordinarily geared-up to process those threats all the time to try to prevent people from doing this. They are working very hard to figure out who is plotting attacks and to stop that attack.”
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