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Tense hearing ends abruptly with no trial date in sight for Walmart mass shooting case

Attorney Joe Spencer and District Attorney Bill Hicks said they could not comment on the 2019 Walmart mass shooting case citing a gag order issued by District Court Judge Sam Medrano after a hearing on February 22, 2024.
Aaron Montes / KTEP News
Attorney Joe Spencer and District Attorney Bill Hicks said they could not comment on the 2019 Walmart mass shooting case citing a gag order issued by District Court Judge Sam Medrano after a hearing on February 22, 2024.

EL PASO, Texas (KTEP) - During a tense discussion over when a trial could take place, District Court Judge Sam Medrano abruptly ended a status hearing over the 2019 Walmart mass shooting case.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys had taken verbal jabs at each other throughout the hearing that was meant to be a day for both sides to work out a schedule. The only thing the two sides could agree on was that at least 1,000 people needed to be part of jury selection in the case.

Medrano intervened as District Attorney Bill Hicks and defense attorney Joe Spencer began talking over each other.

“Ok, We’re done,” he said.

He looked at about a dozen family members of people murdered the day of the shooting who were watching the hearing. And, made an address to them and to the El Paso community from his chair.

“No one has ever heard me, ever, talk from my bench on matters like this,” he said. “It’s important, this community needs to understand, that both sides have outstanding lawyers that are zealous from their point of view, but I think it’s important for this court to remind this community that this did happen almost four and a half years ago.”

Patrick Crusius, the white supremacist who murdered 23 and injured dozens more in an attack at a Walmart on August 3, 2019, is charged with capital murder and at least a dozen aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges by the state of Texas.

He faces the death penalty in the state version of the case. Last year, he was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences in federal court.

Crusius was not present for Thursday’s hearing.

Medrano pointed out his court has only been truly in charge of the case for less than six months and that various events have stalled the state version of the Walmart mass shooting case.

“I’m hoping this community understands that everyone wants a resolution to this case but not at the expense of justice,” he said.

He mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal trial and District Attorney administration transitions between Jaime Esparza, Yvonne Rosales and now Bill Hicks have been factors in the delays. He also said the new administration inherited “a mess” from Rosales’ time in office.

“The previous administration, at some point, we couldn’t do some of the things that needed to be done in the background as the federal case proceeded,” he said. “We were sidetracked and sidelined by having to deal with other issues as to whether or not there had been some tampering with some of the witnesses in this case.”

Rosales resigned in late 2022 amid allegations of misconduct and incompetence. Hicks replaced the Democrat with an appointment from fellow Republican Greg Abbott.

Medrano ended the hearing without making a decision on a request made by the gunman’s attorneys. The defense asked they be given six months to organize over one million files of evidence given to them by the DA’s office this year.

The defense team hired Todd Cooper, a digital forensics and electronic discovery consultant from the firm ArcherHall to come up with a plan to organize the files. He testified that the gunman’s attorneys received 90,000 duplicate files and need six months to sort out all the material.

Felix Valenzuela, one of the gunman’s attorneys, said the team would begin reviewing the contents of the files after organizing them. And, he could not say how long it would take before making motions that would help move the case forward.

“We cannot even begin to craft these motions until we review the discovery,” he said. “We have a duty to go through every single file they give us.”

But Valenzuela also said the DA’s office was committing “paper sabotage” by handing so many files over to his team without categorizing or indexing their contents. Attorney Joe Spencer, who is also part of the defense, added it was politics that was getting in the way of the case.

“Politics has been the cornerstone of why this case has not been resolved,” Spencer said.

In response to the defense’s comments, assistant district attorney Rebecca Tarango said her office is complying with state requirements and turning over all evidence to the defense.

She said defense attorneys have had the bulk of evidence in the case for years after receiving it from the state and federal government. The only new evidence they have received are ballistics reports, some medical records and dashcam video from police.

“We are not trying to slow them down,” she said. “Obviously, we want to go to trial.”

DA Hicks said the defense should be able to use the evidence they received from the federal government in that version of the case to be able to strategize and plan.

“I take great exception to the comment that this is justice versus politics. And, say it’s politics on behalf of the district attorney’s office,” he said. “The only thing this office wants is to move this case to trial going on five years after this happened. All we want is for a jury to have the ability to hear this case.”

Hicks also requested judge Medrano order a deadline in August for pre-trial motions.

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