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Defense lawyers claim accused El Paso Walmart shooter has ‘mental disabilities’

Patrick Crusius
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Patrick Crusius during his arraignment on state murder charges.

EL PASO, Texas — Lawyers for the man charged with shooting scores of people in a racist attack at El Paso's Cielo Vista Walmart say their client has diagnosed mental disabilities that should be a “red flag” for federal prosecutors considering whether to seek the death penalty.

Patrick Crusius “has been diagnosed with severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities” and was treated with antipsychotic medication following his arrest moments after the massacre in El Paso, his attorneys wrote in a court filing. (You can read the entire document at the end of this article.)

The shooting left dozens wounded and ultimately killed 23 people. Soon after it, Crusius’ lawyers say, jail mental health staff found the 21-year-old to be in a “psychotic state.”

Crusius’ mental health conditions, which have not been previously reported, were revealed in a request by his lawyers for more time to investigate these “mitigating themes” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The court record also states Crusius was in special education for much of his schooling, but does not elaborate on his mental health. A lawyer for his family, Christopher Ayres, declined to comment.

Crusius was arrested soon after the Aug. 3 shooting. Police later said he confessed to driving to El Paso from his home near Dallas to target Mexicans. Soon before the attack, he posted a racist screed online that railed against Hispanics coming to the U.S., according to prosecutors.

Crusius pleaded not guilty in a state case where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty but has not entered a plea to the scores of hate crime and gun charges he faces in federal court. A trial date has not been set in either case.

Conviction on the federal charges could also come with a death sentence, and Crusius’ lawyers said in their Saturday court filing that prosecutors had indicated they’ll proceed with a decision about what sentence to seek by July 30.

David Lane, a Colorado-based defense attorney, wrote that this schedule would violate Crusius’ constitutional rights because the virus has stalled their investigation of issues the government must consider.

Lane, who is 65, said safety concerns have blocked the defense team from doing in-person interviews since mid-March, including with Crusius, who is jailed without bond. He asked the judge to schedule a discussion of these issues for October.

Federal prosecutors are opposing the request and have said the attorney general will decide whether to seek the death penalty. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lane declined to comment, saying the “the motion speaks for itself.”

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