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Accused El Paso Walmart shooter makes initial federal court appearance in shackles, pleads ‘not guilty’ to hate crimes

Patrick Crusius
Accused mass shooter Patrick Crusius (center) appears in court during his arraignment last year on state murder charges.

EL PASO, Texas — The man accused of killing 22 people and wounding two dozen more in a shooting at El Paso's Cielo Vista Walmart made an initial appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court on federal hate crimes charges, wearing restraints after a judge ruled he posed a security risk because he is charged with "extremely violent offenses."

After the appearance, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius later filed a written "not guilty" plea to 90 counts under federal hate crime and firearms laws for his role in the Aug. 3 shooting that according to an indictment was aimed at scaring Hispanics into leaving the United States.

Crusius' defense lawyers had sought to have him appear in court without wearing his jail uniform or shackles and handcuffs. The judge granted the clothing request for Crusius to wear a suit - but denied the request to leave him unrestrained.

"The Court finds it appropriate that the Defendant be restrained at his initial appearance... using the customary restraints used by the United States Marshals under the circumstances," wrote Magistrate Judge Miguel Torres in an order signed about an hour before Crusius' court appearance.

At least nine U.S. Marshals stood watch over Crusius in the courtroom during the proceeding after prosecutors had cited "legitimate public safety and security issues."

Crusius did not speak in court and showed no emotion as about a dozen survivors of the attack teared up and consoled one another in the courtroom.

His two court-appointed defense lawyers waived the reading of the charges against him and the right to a bond hearing.

That means Crusius will remain held without bond at the El Paso County jail downtown, where he has been kept isolated from other prisoners on suicide watch since his arrest on the day of the shootings.

"We're starting the process. Our job is to protect your constitutional rights as well as that of the accused. We are going to do everything in our power to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States of America," defense lawyer David Lane told reporters outside the court after the appearance.

Lane gained national notoriety in 2009 when he represented a Colorado couple involved in what came to be known as the "Balloon Boy" hoax.  in that case, a homemade helium-filled gas balloon shaped to resemble a silver flying saucer was released into the atmosphere by parents who falsely claimed that their six-year-old son was trapped inside it.

Wednesday's hearing opened a federal prosecution against Crusius that will be on a parallel track with the state prosecution on capital murder charges, to which Crusius pleaded not guilty last year.

Federal prosecutors have said they will consult with victims’ families before U.S. Attorney General William Barr decides if they will pursue a federal death sentence for Crusius, who already faces the state death penalty if convicted.

The federal grand jury that indicted Crusius found his alleged crimes came “after substantial planning and premeditation.” He bought a Romanian-made AK-47-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of hollow-point ammunition online more than six weeks before he drove 10 hours overnight from his grandparents’ house in a Dallas suburb to El Paso to carry out the attack, according to the indictment.

More than 20 people survived the shooting with injuries; some underwent surgery in recent months, and one is still in the hospital. Hundreds more have suffered psychological trauma either because they were present or because a loved one was wounded, according to local officials.

(The Associated Press contributed background to this report.)

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the former Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.


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