WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is putting forth seven new Justice Department and judicial nominations covering three U.S. attorney’s offices in Texas and other senior posts. One is a prosecutor who vowed to seek the death penalty for a man who killed nearly two dozen people in a racist attack at a Walmart.
The nominations, announced by the White House on Friday, include three for U.S. marshal in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah, along with a nomination of a longtime prosecutor to become a federal judge in Mississippi.
Among the nominations is that of Jaime Esparza, who had served as district attorney for El Paso County, Texas, from 1993 to 2020, to be the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. As district attorney, he secured a capital murder indictment and vowed to pursue the death penalty for Patrick Crusius, the North Texas man accused of targeting Mexicans during a 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that left dozens wounded and ultimately killed 23 people.
Crusius also faces federal hate crime charges, and if confirmed, Esparza would be a key figure in deciding whether to pursue the federal death penalty in the case. Ultimately that decision falls to senior Justice Department officials, generally based on the recommendation from the U.S. attorney.
Biden has said he is opposed to the death penalty and has vowed to end its use while in office. Attorney General Merrick Garland has halted federal executions following an unprecedented run of capital punishment in the waning months of the Trump administration and ordered a review of the procedures and policies surrounding the practice. The moratorium applies only to executions and doesn’t prohibit prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.
Federal prosecutors in West Texas also face a consequential decision about whether to bring criminal charges against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The Republican has been under federal investigation since autumn 2020, when eight of his top deputies accused the attorney general of using the office to help a political donor who employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair. Paxton, who is seeking a third term as the top state law enforcement official in November, has broadly denied wrongdoing.
Biden also nominated Alamdar Hamdani, a career federal prosecutor who had worked in the Justice Department’s national security division and worked on counterterrorism cases, to be the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas. He also nominated Leigha Simonton, a federal prosecutor since 2005, to be the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas. Simonton had previously worked in private practice and was a law clerk for an appellate judge in the Fifth Circuit.
With the new slate, Biden has now announced 63 nominees to serve as U.S. attorneys in districts across the U.S. and 20 nominees to serve as U.S. marshals. The Justice Department’s 93 U.S. attorneys, who are responsible for federal criminal prosecutions in their respective districts, are likely to be central to efforts to combat violent crime.
The slate announced Friday also has nominees for U.S. Marshals Service positions.
Biden nominated Michael Black, who has worked as the director of protective services for OhioHealth Corp. since 2021, to be the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Ohio. The former Ohio state police and Columbus police official also worked for the state’s lottery commission and is a Marine Corps veteran.
In Pennsylvania, Biden nominated Stephen Eberle, a former state police commander to be the U.S. marshal for the Western District of Pennsylvania. And in Utah, Biden nominated Justin Martinez, the sheriff in Summit County, to be the U.S. marshal for the state. The Coast Guard veteran worked in several local police departments and was also a correctional officer.
The administration also said it was nominating Scott Colom, now district attorney in Mississippi, to be a U.S. district court judge in the Northern District of Mississippi. He previously served as a city prosecutor and municipal judge.