EL PASO, Texas — The public should be allowed to see more of the court records filed in the federal prosecution of the man who killed 23 people in a racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, according to two recent motions.
The requests to U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama were made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which sought to make public most of the records it had entered in the court record under seal; and El Paso Matters, which asks for the unsealing of records submitted by both the prosecution and defense.
Patrick Crusius, 24, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a variety of federal hate crimes and weapons charges after the federal government agreed not to seek the death penalty in the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting in which he killed 23 people and wounded 22 others. He was sentenced to 90 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.
Dozens of documents filed with the court by prosecutors and defense attorneys between 2020 and 2023 were done so under seal, meaning they could be accessed by court officials and attorneys in the case, but not the general public.
On Nov. 2, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office entered a motion to unseal most of the sealed documents that prosecutors introduced over the past three years. The request excludes records with “personal identifiable information related to victims in this case, information that remains subject to the Court’s Protective Order, and/or information that could materially impact the conduct of the pending state case,” according to the filing.
The confessed gunman still faces a state trial on capital murder charges that could carry the death penalty, but no trial date has been set.
Defense attorneys filed motions on Nov. 10 and Nov. 14 seeking to prevent public disclosure of payments to court-appointed defense attorneys and experts they hired, including such records sealed by a judge. It’s not clear if the request to unseal records by prosecutors and El Paso Matters involves payment records for defense attorneys and experts.
On Tuesday, El Paso Matters sought permission to intervene in the case to seek the unsealing of a broader range of documents that were submitted by prosecution and defense attorneys. The request was submitted by attorneys Amanda Crouch of San Antonio and Katie Townsend of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which provides free legal services to protect First Amendment freedoms and the news gathering rights of journalists.
An exhibit submitted in support of the El Paso Matters motion argues that there is a significant public interest in unsealing the records now that the federal case has ended.
“For example, the public, to this day, knows little about the details of Crusius’ attack. Nor does the public have an understanding of why the Government decided not to seek the death penalty in this case,” according to the El Paso Matters motion. “Though sentencing proceedings revealed publicly for the first time that Crusius suffers from mental illness … it is unclear whether this documented mental illness was a factor in the Government’s decision. El Paso Matters seeks access to the Sealed Records to provide the public with a more fulsome picture of how Crusius was prosecuted and sentenced for his crimes.”
Prosecutors took no position on El Paso Matters’ motion to unseal the records, while defense attorneys objected, according to the news organization’s motion.