A state trial for the accused gunman in the 2019 El Paso mass killing may still be two or more years away, District Attorney Bill Hicks said after a closed-door meeting Wednesday with defense lawyers and the judge in the case.

“I’m not sure — 2024, maybe 2025, I’m just not sure,” Hicks said in a brief conversation with journalists following the meeting. “That’s completely up to the judge, and we’d have to meet again in order to discuss that.”

Defense attorneys Joe Spencer and Mark Stevens left the hearing without comment to a group of journalists.

Attorneys Joe Spencer, left, and Mark Stevens, make their way into the 409th District Court’s chambers for a status hearing on the Walmart mass shooting case. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

Sam Medrano Jr., the 409th District Court judge, scheduled a status hearing for the shooting case Wednesday afternoon. Although the public had been allowed to attend previous status hearings in the case, Medrano barred the public from Wednesday’s hearing, without explanation.

The status hearing came four days after defense lawyers for Patrick Crusius, 24, said he would plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges in the Walmart shooting. That filing followed the Jan. 17 announcement by the Justice Department that it would not seek the death penalty for Crusius on the federal charges filed after the Aug. 3, 2019, attack at the Cielo Vista Walmart that killed 23 and injured 22.

Crusius could face the death penalty if convicted of the state capital murder charges in Medrano’s court. State prosecutors, including Hicks, have repeatedly said they will seek the death penalty.

Shortly before the mass shooting, Crusius allegedly posted a screed on a website used by white supremacists that the attack was done “to stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

A trial on the federal hate crimes charges had been scheduled for next year, but Crusius’ attorneys have said he will plead guilty at a Feb. 8 re-arraignment before U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama.

Under federal procedures, formal sentencing will take place weeks or months after the guilty plea. The maximum sentence would be life in prison, which in the federal system means no chance of parole.

The state prosecution of Crusius has moved much more slowly. No trial date has been set.

Hicks said the state prosecution has to wait until after the federal process plays out.

“We can’t do anything until the federal prosecution is done. They, of course, have the federal plea and then the sentencing, which I don’t know when that will be, but once the federal sentencing is over with, then he would hopefully come into state custody, and then we would set the trial date after that,” he said.

Hicks declined to discuss specifics of Wednesday’s meeting, saying that attorneys in the case had “a very good discussion, very frank discussion with the judge.”

Hicks was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, following the resignation of District Attorney Yvonne Rosales after two years in office.

Medrano has issued a gag order prohibiting lawyers from publicly commenting on the case. In his brief comments to the media following Wednesday’s hearing, Hicks said the gag order remains in effect.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.