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Relatives of victims in the Texas Walmart shooting speak at sentencing hearing

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man who killed 23 people and wounded more than 20 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is due to be sentenced today. Over the past two days, victims and relatives of those killed in the 2019 shooting got to confront the gunman in federal court. Patrick Crusius pleaded guilty earlier this year to all 90 federal charges in connection with the shooting. KTEP's Aaron Montes has this report.

AARON MONTES, BYLINE: Francisco Rodriguez was on his way into the federal courtroom wearing a T-shirt with the image of his son, Javier. He got to make a victim impact statement as part of the sentencing hearing, where he dared the man who murdered his son to look at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: So that he can see who he killed. He killed a 15-year-old. He didn't even know him.

MONTES: Javier was the youngest person gunned down by Patrick Crusius at a busy El Paso Walmart on a Saturday morning in August four years ago. Rodriguez still celebrates his son's birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODRIGUEZ: I go to the cemetery and sing Happy Birthday to him.

MONTES: Crusius, now 24, drove 600 miles from a Dallas suburb to carry out the attack, telling police he came to kill, quote, "Mexicans" and posted on an extremist social media site that he wanted to stop the, quote, "Hispanic invasion of Texas."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMARIS VEGA: He wanted to take down Mexicans. He wanted to get rid of the Hispanic people here in El Paso, but he didn't do that. He failed.

MONTES: Amaris Vega was among those who filled the federal courtroom to give a victim impact statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA: And now he's in a room full of Hispanic people. And he didn't win. We're still here, and we're not going anywhere.

MONTES: For two full days now, people of all ages have been filling the courtroom. They let out their anger and frustration at the gunman, calling him the devil, a monster and repeatedly referring to him as a coward. More than half of those killed at the Walmart were over 60. The oldest victim was a 90-year-old man. Vega's mother and grandmother were wounded but survived. Her 82-year-old aunt, Teresa Sanchez, died. Her brother, Christopher Marmolejo (ph), said there is still a threat from extremists.

CHRISTOPHER MARMOLEJO: He's a white supremacist, and there's a million of them out there.

MONTES: Crusius is expected to serve 90 consecutive life sentences in federal prison. He could get the death penalty when the case is tried by the state of Texas.

For NPR News, I'm Aaron Montes in El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aaron Montes