Payton Gendron could face the death penalty if he is found guilty of a 2022 mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York grocery store that was racially motivated. This is a major development for the administration of President Joe Biden, who has not sought capital punishment.
On Friday, the Justice Department announced that it would seek the death sentence for the accused shooter. It also explained the reasons behind this decision.
In a Friday court filing, the Justice Department announced that it would seek the death sentence for Payton Gendron, a 19-year-old at the time who had killed 10 people during a racially-motivated shooting in Buffalo, New York in May 2022.
The filing stated that “The United States” believes that the circumstances of Counts 11-20 in the Indictment justify a death sentence in the case of a conviction.
Attorneys for Gendron had previously stated that he was willing to plead guilty if the death sentence were removed.
The DOJ cited Gendron’s serious crimes as its motivation for seeking the death penalty. It noted that he had “intentionally murdered Roberta Drury, Pearl Young, Hayward Patterson, Ruth Whitfield, Celestine Chaney, and Aaron W Salter Jr.
The DOJ noted that the defendant also “expressed hatred, bias, and contempt towards Black people and his animus against Black persons played an important role.”
Families of victims are “divided” over whether they support capital punishment for Gendron. An attorney stated that some family members said they preferred to see Gendron spend the rest of his life in jail.
Terrence Connors is a Buffalo lawyer who represents some of the relatives of Mr. Gendron’s victims. He said that they have mixed feelings about what happened to him.
He told reporters Friday afternoon outside Buffalo’s Federal Courthouse, “There was a division.” “Several of them thought that life imprisonment was the right sentence. Others felt that the maximum punishment in this case was justified. If not this case then in what other case?
Gendron began his shooting spree in the parking lot of Tops Supermarket. He was 19 at the time. He was wearing heavy weapons and tactical gear. He then entered the store, continued shooting, and live-streamed the attack via Twitch. All 10 of the victims were black. Two white shoppers were also injured by the gunman.
Later, it was revealed that the shooting had been motivated by racism against blacks. The gunman, in a manifesto, posted online, expressed his belief in “the great replacement theory”. During a court appearance, he acknowledged that the shooting had been motivated by racism.
Biden’s opposition to the federal death sentence makes the DOJ’s decision notable. It will be the first instance under his administration when the Justice Department advocates capital punishment.