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UPDATE 3-Texas Walmart massacre suspect pleads guilty to U.S. hate crimes

(Updates with comment from Crusius' defense attorney)

By Brad Brooks

Feb 8 (Reuters) - A Texas man accused of targeting Latinos during a 2019 massacre of 23 people at an El Paso Walmart store pleaded guilty on Wednesday to federal hate crimes, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office that prosecuted the case.

Patrick Crusius changed his plea to guilty during a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas after federal prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty.

Crusius faces life in prison on the federal charges. He faces the death penalty on state charges.

Crusius' attorney Joe Spencer told reporters after the hearing that Crusius had long wanted to plead guilty to the federal charges.

"He's glad that it's finally done," Spencer said. "There are no winners in this case. He's going to be serving 90 consecutive life sentences."

Spencer said he could say nothing more, given a gag order that a state court judge issued in the case and with Crusius still facing that state trial. No trial date has been set in the state case.

A Texas judge last year put off the state trial, saying that determining how to proceed would be affected by the decision from federal prosecutors on whether they would seek capital punishment.

Federal prosecutors say Crusius drove 11 hours to El Paso, on the U.S. border with Mexico, from his home in a suburb near Dallas, on Aug. 3, 2019, and fired at shoppers with an AK-47-style rifle inside the Walmart store. He surrendered to officers who confronted him nearby.

A racist manifesto that prosecutors say Crusius posted online on a now-defunct message board called 8chan, often used by extremists, said the attack was "a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

Crusius pleaded not guilty in 2020 to 90 federal hate crime charges. Proceedings were delayed while prosecutors decided whether to pursue the death penalty.

In 2020, his lawyers argued that Crusius, then 21, had been diagnosed with severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities and should not face execution if convicted. (Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Donna Bryson, Leslie Adler, Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)