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El Paso shooting suspect’s team pleads not guilty as he makes first federal court appearance for the deaths of 22

Families hug each other near MacArthur School, which was used as a reunification center on August 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Lola Gomez / Austin American-Statesman / TNS)

Shackled, handcuffed and sporting a blue blazer, gray tie and fresh haircut, a noticeably thinner Patrick Crusius was arraigned before a federal judge Wednesday. His legal team entered a plea of not guilty to charges that he killed 22 people and injured dozens at a Walmart here last August in the largest massacre of Hispanics in modern times.

Crusius, 21, from Allen made his first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miguel Angel Torres, following his indictment last week on 90 federal charges, including 42 counts of hate crimes. Torres read Crusius his rights and a summary of the charges, which carry a potential penalty of death.

“Each charge corresponds to a specific victim,” Torres told Crusius, who nodded his head several times. He didn’t speak during his brief public appearance. No cameras, or cellphones were allowed inside a courtroom packed with relatives of the victims, officials from both sides of the border and reporters.

Eight of the shooting victims were Mexican nationals. Minutes before the Walmart massacre, Crusius, who police say confessed after the shootings, allegedly posted a 2,300-word manifesto online in which he said the attack was in response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Crusius will remain behind bars while he awaits trial. His lawyers waived his right to a detention hearing, deciding not to fight being held without bond. No trial date or location has been set.

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Crusius appeared next to his team of attorneys, including new members David A. Lane of Denver, Colo., and Rebecca L. Hudsmith from the Federal Public Defender for the Western and Middle Districts of Louisiana.

“Our job is to protect the constitutional rights of you, everyone and our client,” Lane told reporters. “We are making sure we get a fair trial.”

Hudsmith, from Lafayette, La., declined to comment.

Crusius’ attorneys, citing security concerns, filed a motion Tuesday requesting that the federal judge issue an order to prevent exposing Crusius to public view during a transfer from county jail, where he has been held since he was arrested minutes after the Aug. 3 killings, to the federal courthouse across the street. The practice is commonly known as a “perp walk.”

“Obviously tremendous prejudice and enormous risk to Mr. Crusius’ life would result if he is paraded around in public, shackled like a circus animal on a chain as he is being transported to and from court,” the defense motion stated. “Shackling carries the message that the state and the judge think the defendant is dangerous, even in the courtroom,” read the motion, citing an appeals court decision.

The defense team also asked the judge to prevent their client from appearing in shackles and jail clothing. That part of the motion was granted.

Crusius stood inside a courtroom in which most people, from the judge to other officials, were largely Hispanic.

According to the federal indictment, Crusius wrote in his manifesto that Hispanics “are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by the invasion.”

The courthouse on Wednesday was placed on heightened security, with bomb-sniffing dogs and officers patrolling the building as El Pasoans nonchalantly walked by, braving rare snow and a bitter cold.

Crusius has already pleaded not guilty to a state capital murder charge. Federal prosecutors said they will be trying their case in parallel to the state case.

El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza, whose term ends at the end of the year, has said he intends to seek the death penalty.

A status hearing by the state scheduled for Thursday was postponed and will be rescheduled later.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News