People whose loved ones were killed by a white supremacist gunman at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 had their first chance to speak to him on Wednesday at a hearing packed with anger, anxiety and pain.
“I want you dead. I hate you so much,” said Genesis Davila, now 16, whose soccer coach Memo Garcia was among the 23 people shot to death on Aug. 3, 2019. Her father was wounded in the attack and she fled from the gunman.
Thirteen people gave victim impact statements on Wednesday in the sentencing hearing for Patrick Crusius, 24, who has pleaded guilty to 90 federal charges – two for each of the 23 people killed and 22 wounded in the Walmart shooting.
Victim impact statements resume at 10 a.m. Thursday in front of U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama. When the hearing concludes, likely this week, Crusius will be sentenced to 90 consecutive life terms in federal prison under a plea agreement reached with prosecutors.
Jocelyn Atilano, another member of the EP Fusion soccer team that was doing a fundraiser at Walmart the day of the shooting, said the gunman upended her life.
“I used to be a happy, normal child until a coward chose to use violence against the innocent,” said Atilano, who was 13 at the time of the shooting and is now 17.
Crusius told Guaderrama that he was waiving his right to make an allocution — a statement to the court — as part of the sentencing hearing. Defense attorney Joe Spencer said he was reserving his right to make a statement on behalf of his client after the victim impact statements conclude.
In federal court, defendants have a right to speak to the judge before sentencing, but are not required to do so.
‘You’re a stupid coward’
Crusius showed little reaction throughout the two-hour hearing Wednesday, other than occasionally nodding his head. Two of the victims giving impact statements accused him of rolling his eyes at them.
Thomas Hoffmann, whose father Gerhard Alexander Hoffman was killed by Crusius, held up pictures of his parents and his family and asked the gunman to look at them. Crusius did not.
“You’re a stupid coward. You deserve to suffer in jail and then burn in hell,” Hoffmann said.
Some of the victims’ family members criticized Crusius’ parents for not doing enough to disarm him after he bought the AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle that he used in the Walmart attack eight days after his 21st birthday.
“I hate your parents for having brought you into this world,” Alfredo Hernandez wrote in a letter read by a prosecutor. His sister, Maribel Hernandez Loya, was shot and killed by Crusius, along with her husband, Leo Campos.
Hernandez cursed repeatedly in the letter and asked Crusius – referring to him as Cru-fuck-shis – why he didn’t just kill himself rather than innocent people.
Stephanie Melendez’s father, David Johnson, was shot to death on Aisle 3 while doing back-to-school shopping with his wife, Kathleen, and their granddaughter, Kaitlyn Melendez.
“How am I supposed to help a child who saw her grandfather murdered?” Stephanie Melendez asked.
Her daughter Kaitlyn, now 13, who was accompanied by a service dog named Beaumont, also gave a statement. “I shall not ever forgive you,” she said.
The few mentions of forgiveness for Crusius were couched.
Raul Loya, the son of Maribel Hernandez Loya, said he is trying to find forgiveness. “I have to watch them killed on a daily basis in my mind,” he said.
Tito Anchondo lost his brother and sister-in-law, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, to Crusius’ rampage. His father, Gilbert, died 18 months after the shootings. He said he focuses on something his father told him.
“I forgive him, but I don’t forgive the devil inside him,” Tito Anchondo said.
For her victim impact statement, Deborah Anchondo, sister of Andre Anchondo, read words from the youngest victim of the Walmart shooting, Paul Anchondo. He was 10 weeks old and wounded as his parents were killed trying to shield him. He is now 4 years old.
“Why can’t I go to heaven now and see my Dad,” Paul asked his grandmother, Brenda Anchondo. “It’s not your time,” she told him.
The Aug. 3, 2019, Walmart attack is the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history to result in a conviction and sentence. In the six shootings with more deaths, the suspects killed themselves or were killed by law enforcement.
Crusius, who is from Allen, Texas, drove 10 hours across the state to commit the mass shooting. At his guilty plea, prosecutors said he chose El Paso because he didn’t want to kill people in a border area closer to his family’s North Texas home.
The hearing Wednesday morning focused on a presentence report by Jessica Avila of the federal Probation and Pretrial Services. The report assessed the suggested punishment ranges based on federal sentencing guidelines.
Crusius pleaded guilty to 23 counts of hate crime resulting in death, 23 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder in a crime of violence, 22 counts of hate crime resulting attempt to kill, and 22 counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Judge Guaderrama said that based on Avila’s report, sentencing guidelines called for life sentences on the 46 hate crime charges and a minimum of 10 years for each of the 44 firearms charges.
But Guaderrama said the plea agreement in February will result in 90 consecutive life sentences. The federal system does not allow for parole.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for three days, through Friday.
More than 50 victims and families of those killed were in the courtroom Wednesday. It’s unclear how many will speak during victim impact statements.
One of those at the hearing is Paul Jamrowski, father of Jordan Anchondo.
Speaking with reporters outside court, Jamrowski said the decision on Crusius’ fate is not up to him because nothing will bring his daughter back.
“It is what it is,” he said, “However, I do give him forgiveness.”
Guaderrama apologized at the outset of the hearing because of the high temperature in the courtroom. He said the chillers at the federal courthouse broke down over the weekend and had been restored to 50 percent capacity.
Many of the victims and family members fanned themselves to stay cool.
Crusius was shackled and wearing a dark blue El Paso County jail jumpsuit. His shoulder-length brown, wavy hair was bushier than during his February court appearance. He had close-cropped hair when he was arrested in 2019.
He talked at times during the hearing with his lawyers, but mostly stared straight ahead during the morning proceedings. He didn’t look toward the victims and families, who were seated behind him to his right.
Crusius was arrested in his car shortly after the shooting, less than a mile from the Walmart. During questioning by police and FBI agents, he confessed to the crime, officials have said.
Shortly before entering the Walmart, he posted a screed online that echoed previous white supremacist mass shooters and said he was acting “to stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Numerous Republican politicians and conservative media figures continue to describe migration as an invasion.
Crusius still faces 23 capital murder and other charges in state court, which could bring the death penalty. No date has been set for the trial on state charges.
Corrie Boudreaux contributed to this story.
Correction: A caption in an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect age for Kaitlyn Melendez. She was 9 at the time of the shooting and is now 13.