El Paso shooting suspect makes not guilty plea
EL PASO, Texas — Quietly and without emotion, Walmart shooting suspect Patrick Crusius pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he killed 22 people in El Paso.
Dozens of injured victims and family members of those slain in the biggest racially driven attack against Latinos in U.S. recent memory watched on in silence. Some wore black for the brief court appearance, which lasted fewer than three minutes.
One of those in the courtroom of about 140 people was Sylvia Saucedo. The sight of the confessed killer teared her up, she said. She remembers seeing him walking inside Walmart, with her view of him from the knees down. She heard him shooting. She crawled under a table and pulled her 91-year-old mother alongside her, took out her cellphone and recorded the chaos that ensued.
When she saw him walk into the courtroom, Saucedo said, “Suddenly I was back inside Walmart. All the memories came back to me. This was very hard, very painful.”
El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza has said he will seek the death penalty. Crusius, 21, had earlier confessed to police. He uttered few words in a low tone during the hearing. The solemn witnesses in the courtoom held their reactions in check as he said, “Not guilty.”
The plea leaves open the option for an insanity defense.
A grand jury indicted Crusius last month on first-degree felony charges punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. U.S. Attorney for Western District of Texas John Bash has also said that his office plans to indict Crusius on federal hate crime, domestic terrorism and firearm charges.
After the hearing, Maria Elena Gordon, an El Paso community activist, decried Crusius’ plea.
“To say to a judge you’re not guilty says that you’re a coward. We’re talking about a white supremacist, a domestic terrorist,” she said. “That’s unacceptable. Just the way he grabbed his assault weapon, he ought to have the cojones to take responsibility for what he did. Instead, he looked so cowardly in the courtroom.”