Texas Walmart massacre suspect pleads guilty to U.S. hate crimes

Feb 8 (Reuters) - A Texas man accused of targeting Latinos during a 2019 massacre of 23 people at an El Paso Walmart store pleaded guilty on Wednesday to federal hate crimes, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office prosecuting the case.

Patrick Crusius, 24, changed his plea to guilty during a hearing in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas after federal prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty.

Crusius faces life in prison on the federal charges. He still faces the death penalty on state charges in a pending trial.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said that Crusius, a self-described white nationalist, was convicted on 90 total counts, but that "nothing can undo the immeasurable loss" suffered by families of the victims.

"Today's action makes clear that the Justice Department will not tolerate hate-fueled violence that endangers the safety of our communities," Garland said in a statement.

Crusius' attorney Joe Spencer told reporters after the hearing that Crusius had long wanted to plead guilty to the federal charges.

"He's glad that it's finally done," Spencer said. "There are no winners in this case. He's going to be serving 90 consecutive life sentences."

Spencer said he could say nothing more, given a gag order that a state court judge issued and with Crusius still facing the state trial. No trial date has been set in the state case.

A Texas judge last year put off the state trial, saying that determining how to proceed would be affected by the decision from federal prosecutors on whether they would seek capital punishment.

Federal prosecutors say Crusius drove 11 hours to El Paso, on the U.S. border with Mexico, from his home in a suburb near Dallas, on Aug. 3, 2019, and fired at shoppers with an AK-47-style rifle inside the Walmart store. He surrendered to officers who confronted him nearby.

A racist manifesto that prosecutors say Crusius posted online just minutes before the shooting said the attack was "a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

Crusius pleaded not guilty in 2020 to 90 federal hate crime charges. Proceedings were delayed while prosecutors decided whether to pursue the death penalty.

In 2020, his lawyers argued that Crusius, then 21, had been diagnosed with severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities and should not face execution if convicted.

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Donna Bryson, Leslie Adler, Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio

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