EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The lead prosecutor in the case against alleged Walmart shooter Patrick Crusius withdrew from the case in a letter to Judge Sam Medrano Thursday morning. It is unclear who is now handling the largest murder trial in El Paso’s history.
Cox’s departure from the case marks the second lead prosecutor change in El Paso’s highest-profile case in history in less than two and a half months. His withdrawal comes two days after County Attorney JoAnne Bernal filed an Intent to Proceed in her removal of elected District Attorney Yvonne Rosales.
According to Cox’s letter to the court, he is withdrawing from the Walmart case effective immediately. He directs the court to address all further communications and filings regarding this case referred to DA Rosales.
Patrick Crusius is facing multiple counts of Capital Murder in the August 3, 2019, slaying of 23 people inside the Cielo Vista Walmart. A federal court trial date of January 2024 was set earlier this year, and a deadline for the federal prosecution to decide whether they will seek the death penalty is set for January 2023.
KTSM spoke with a former district court judge Chris Antcliff who said he is not worried about the state’s Walmart case since it is still in early stages and he believes the federal prosecution will lead the way for what happens with the state’s case.
Antcliff said he believes no one at D.A.’s office was fit to prosecute the death penalty case.
“The problem with our D.A. ‘s office is that nobody there any longer is capable of trying this case, so it’s going to require either a special prosecutor or if judge Lewis appoints an interim district attorney who has capital death experience, then that person could try it,” Antcliff said.
Judge Tryon Lewis is appointed to the removal petition case of D.A. Rosales.
He has the authority to remove Rosales from her position while she waits for her trial in March of 2023 and to appoint someone else to replace her temporarily.
Antcliff said, regarding Cox’s withdrawal, it is “highly unusual” for an assistant district attorney to drop out of a case in such a way.
“The disarray in the district attorney’s office has caused this mess,” he said.
Antcliff said this case requires an experienced prosecutor, naming former main prosecutor John Briggs as the best one for the job out of all.
As KTSM reported, former lead attorney John Briggs was fired on August 22, and Special Prosecutor Monica Barron-Auger, who was hired to work on the case earlier that month, also submitted her resignation in the same week.
Briggs later went on to testify under oath that he was fired just two days after approaching leadership in the District Attorney’s office with concerns that a series of e-mails purportedly from the family of a Walmart victim came from inside the DA’s office.
On October 6, Attorney Justin Underwood filed an ad litem report on behalf of his clients, the Hoffmann family, accusing Yvonne Rosales’ personal attorney, Roger Rodriguez, of tampering with witnesses. In the report, Underwood claims that Rodriguez intimidated the Hoffmanns into agreeing to send e-mails attacking political opponents of the District Attorney. In the Underwood report, he indicates the Hoffmanns had communicated with the FBI regarding possibly criminal actions from Rodriguez and individuals connected to the District Attorney’s office.
Curtis Cox was also previously involved in the dismissal of a Capital Murder case in late 2021, which is one of the cases brought forth in the removal petition for District Attorney Yvonne Rosales. In that case, Cox is accused of prosecutorial vindictiveness against the defendant, Ivan Gabaldon. Judge Alyssa Perez ultimately dismissed the murder case.