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Weeks after a state district judge admonished the El Paso district attorney for not filing any motions in the Walmart shooting case even though she wants the case to go to trial next year, her office filed a handful of motions Friday.
These include notice of the addition of two new state prosecutors on the case, both of whom were brought in from out of town: Monica Barron Auger and Adaeze Ada Nwaneri, who previously worked in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, respectively.
They will join Assistant District Attorneys John Briggs, Michelle Hill and Habon Mohamed, who were already working on the case.
District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ decision to “hire out-of-town lawyers that will be prosecuting this case” was “the worst kept secret in the legal community,” 409th District Judge Sam Medrano said at a July 1 hearing. At that time, Rosales told the judge that her office had yet to make the hires.
It is unknown when Barron Auger and Nwaneri joined her office, and whether they will be working out of El Paso.
“Unfortunately because of the gag order, we have nothing to say,” Paul Ferris, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said in response to questions about the recent filings.
Medrano issued a gag order in the case on July 1, after Rosales gave a statement to KTEP and the Dallas Morning News indicating her desire to have the case tried in summer 2023 ahead of the federal trial, which has been set for January 2024.
In June, the DA’s office received nearly $1.9 million in state grant funds to help cover the costs associated with the trial.
“The District Attorney’s Office will seek to build a team of prosecutors who have specialized experience in capital murder cases, along with experienced support staff, to pursue justice in prosecuting the defendant,” the grant application reads.
This would include the hire of three principal attorneys, a division trial chief, two senior paralegals and two senior legal secretaries. The salaries for the principal attorneys were listed as approximately $185,000 (including benefits), according to the application.
El Paso County Interim Chief Human Resources Officer Sam Trujillo did not return an email seeking the new assistant district attorneys’ date of hire or salary.
Barron Auger has been licensed to practice law in Texas since 2000, according to the State Bar of Texas, and Nwaneri since 2013.
Barron Auger was an assistant district attorney for the Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney’s Office from 2001 to 2021, according to the office. Nwaneri worked at the Midland County District Attorney’s Office from 2015 through 2021, according to her LinkedIn profile, and before that was an assistant district attorney in Ector and Dallas counties.
The El Paso District Attorney’s Office on Friday also filed a motion notifying Medrano and the defense attorneys of its intent to seek the death penalty. The alleged gunman has been charged with 23 counts of capital murder, which is the only state charge in Texas eligible for the death penalty.
Federal prosecutors have yet to announce whether they too will seek the death penalty.
Early on in the case, then-District Attorney Jaime Esparza said he would pursue the death penalty, but he never filed an official notice of intent, according to court records.
Esparza repeatedly said that state prosecutors should have priority in prosecuting the case, while Rosales expressed openness during her 2020 campaign to letting federal prosecutors go first.
A trial date has yet to be set in the state case. At last month’s hearing, Medrano said he would not interfere with the federal trial.
“This court continues to prepare for the trial of this case,” Medrano said. “But this court is not going to interfere with the federal trial that has been scheduled in January 2024.”