EL PASO, Texas (AP) — On Thursday, the 19-year-old suspect in the fatal shooting of 22 people at a Texas Walmart faced his trial judge for the first time since his arrest.
Patrick Crusius, of Dallas, appeared in an El Paso courtroom for a brief hearing during which he announced his plea of “not guilty” in the case.
Police say he confessed to the Aug. 3 mass shooting and that he carried out the attack targeting Mexicans.
Some two-dozen people survived the attack with injuries; Hospital officials say two victims are still in the hospital.
Local prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty. Federal authorities are also considering capital murder charges and are investigating possible hate crimes charges. The Department of Justice has called the shooting an act of domestic terrorism.
There were 2,000 witnesses at the scene of the massacre, so almost everybody in the city of about 700,000 knew somebody affected by the shooting.
The first judge assigned the case recused himself, because he knew one of the people killed in the attack. The lead prosecutor says his sister was in the Walmart during the attack and that the gunman walked right by her.
Crusius turned himself in less than an hour after the shooting after fleeing the scene in his car, according to police. His arrest warrant says he turned himself in, saying “I’m the shooter.” Police say he published a racist screed a few minutes before the shooting, saying he wanted to kill Latinos to balkanize the U.S. along racial lines.
Crusius has been held without bond in an El Paso jail. He’s been on a suicide watch since shortly after his arrest and is separated him from other prisoners.
Anticipating a large crowd from the public, state District Court Judge Sam Medrano held the hearing in the county’s largest courtroom, which seats 100.