Former El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza was nominated on Friday by President Biden to be the top federal prosecutor for the Western District of Texas.
Esparza served as El Paso’s district attorney, the top prosecutor in state courts, from 1993 to 2020.
In a December 2020 interview with El Paso Matters, Esparza said he would seek appointment as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, a position that oversees federal prosecutions in a region from Austin and San Antonio to El Paso.
“I’m qualified, I have lots of experience and I have a good grasp of the criminal justice system,” Esparza said in the interview. He could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
If confirmed by the Senate as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, Esparza would oversee the federal prosecution of the suspect in the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that killed 23 people and wounded 22 others.
The accused gunman, Patrick Crusius, faces numerous federal charges of hate crimes, a potential capital offense. The Justice Department has to decide by January 2023 whether it will seek the death penalty against Crusius, whose federal trial is scheduled for January 2024.
Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have both expressed reservations about the federal death penalty.
Crucius also faces state charges of capital murder, and El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales has said she will seek the death penalty on those charges.
No trial date has yet been set on the state capital murder charges. Rosales’ office has been embroiled by controversy for months and she faces a court petition to remove her from office on allegations of incompetence and misconduct.
The state Walmart prosecution has been roiled by allegations that Rosales’ office was behind an email purportedly sent by the family of a man killed in the Walmart attack that criticized District Judge Sam Medrano Jr., who is overseeing the state case, and a former prosecutor.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, had championed Esparza’s appointment as U.S. attorney.
“As district attorney, Mr. Esparza created the domestic violence 24-hour project, an award-winning program to ensure victims of domestic violence are heard and that their cases have the evidence and support they need,” she said in a statement Friday. “Additionally, Mr. Esparza began the District Attorney Information Management System, which reduced arrests by 20% and saved El Paso County millions of dollars. He has been a strong advocate for crime victims and will serve honorably as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.”
Esparza is the first El Pasoan nominated to serve as U.S. attorney since Ron Ederer, who served as the top federal prosecutor in the Western District of Texas in the George H.W. Bush administration from 1989 to 1993.
Ashley Hoff is currently serving as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. She was appointed by federal judges in February 2021, to serve until Biden nominated a successor who was approved by the Senate.
Biden on Friday also nominated Alamdar Hamdani, a career federal prosecutor who had worked in the Justice Department’s national security division and worked on counterterrorism cases, to be the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas.
He also nominated Leigha Simonton, a federal prosecutor since 2005, to be the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas. Simonton had previously worked in private practice and was a law clerk for an appellate judge in the Fifth Circuit.
This story is developing, please check back for updates.