Crime

How was the Walmart shooting suspect's legal defense team selected?

ABC-7 iTeam investigation

Shooting suspect legal team

EL PASO, Texas - ABC-7 is investigating the legal side of the Walmart shooting case. Patrick Crusius, 21, has been in custody in the county jail in downtown El Paso since turning himself into authorities on Aug. 3.

While court records show that he made an initial appearance before a judge, he still hasn't been formally indicted or arraigned because the case remains an open investigation.

The suspect has some experienced attorneys prepared to fight his case once it moves forward. ABC-7 received many comments from El Pasoans who questioned the appointment of two attorneys, who have both gained recognition for their skills in the courtroom, to his defense team.

Documents obtained by ABC-7 show how the defense team was formed.

As ABC-7 reported on Aug. 9, San Antonio attorney Mark Stevens has been appointed as the main counsel, and last week, ABC-7 reported that local attorney Joe Spencer has been named as co-counsel.

ABC-7 obtained the documents that show that on Aug. 4, the suspect applied for a court-appointed attorney because he had no job or source of income.

The decision to appoint Stevens was made by a group of judges in El Paso, aided by judges from across the state.

Mike Cuccaro, the executive director of the El Paso Council of Judges, declined to talk on camera for this story. But he has posted about the legal process online and has communicated with ABC-7 through email. 

Cuccaro declined to specifically identify any of the judges who participated in the process, citing a Texas state law that protects the privacy of judges. But he did say that Stevens was picked after "the chief magistrate consulted the local administrative judge who in turn convened a number of El Paso judges to consider the request."

Court records show that the chief magistrate is Penny Hamilton in El Paso.

A search of the Texas Judicial Branch website shows that Judge Stephen Ables of Kerrville, which is northwest of San Antonio, is the administrative judge for El Paso County.

Court records show that Hamilton informed Stevens of his appointment on Aug. 5.

In a statement posted online, Cuccaro said, "The quality of El Paso representation was never in question," but added that the appointment of an out-of-town attorney was made to avoid potential conflicts of interest among El Paso's legal community and the appearance of bias or favoritism, as well as to avoid impacting an El Paso attorney's practice.

Court records show that Stevens filed a request asking for the appointment of a local attorney, and specifically naming Joe Spencer.

The document states that the shooting suspect "would significantly benefit from the appointment of a second attorney who lives and practices in El Paso County." Stevens also stated, "It is standard practice in Texas to appoint at least two lawyers to represent persons charged with capital murder," adding that Spencer is qualified and "has expressed his willingness to do so if appointed."

Both El Paso police officials and the district attorney have said that the suspect will face capital murder charges.

Cuccaro acknowledged the sensitivity of the case and the legal proceedings, and addressed that in his statement online. While the legal community is also grieving, Cuccaro said, the judges and attorneys remain committed to upholding the law and the right to legal representation.

The police department has not put a firm timeline on when it will turn over the investigation to the district attorney's office.


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