Gunman in racist mass shooting in Buffalo to face death penalty

Payton Gendron at a hearing at the Erie County Courthouse in Buffalo, New York [File:Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP]

Payton Gendron murdered 10 Black people at a supermarket in New York state in 2022.

Federal prosecutors in the United States will seek the death penalty against Payton Gendron, a white supremacist who murdered 10 Black people during a livestreamed supermarket rampage in New York state.

Gendron, 20, is already serving a life sentence in prison with no chance of parole, after he pleaded guilty to state charges of murder and hate-motivated domestic terrorism in the 2022 attack in Buffalo.

In a notice announcing the decision to seek the death penalty, Trini Ross, US attorney for western New York, wrote that Gendron had selected the supermarket “in order to maximise the number of Black victims”.

The notice cited a range of factors for the decision, including the substantial planning leading to the shooting and the decision to target at least one victim who was “particularly vulnerable due to old age and infirmity”.

On May 14, 2022, the then-18-year-old Gendron, had driven from his hometown of Conklin, more than 322km (200 miles) away, wearing heavy body armour and wielding an AR-15 assault rifle.

According to prosecutors, he shot four people in the parking lot, three of them fatally, before entering the grocery store. Gendron also wore a helmet with a video camera attached and livestreamed the two-minute attack on the platform Twitch.

The dead, who ranged in age from 32 to 86, included eight customers, the store security guard and a church deacon who drove shoppers to and from the store with their groceries. Three people were wounded but survived.

On Friday, after a hearing with the federal prosecutors, relatives of the victims expressed mixed views on whether they thought the prosecutors should pursue the death penalty.

“I’m not necessarily disappointed in the decision … It would have satisfied me more knowing he would have spent the rest of his life in prison being surrounded by the population of people he tried to kill,” Mark Talley, whose 63-year-old mother Geraldine Talley was killed by Gendron, told The Associated Press.

“I would prefer he spend the rest of his life in prison suffering every day,” he added.

Several other family members of the victims left without speaking.

Death penalties in the US

Since US President Joe Biden came to power four years ago, the Department of Justice has made federal death penalty cases a rarity.

Biden, a Democrat, pledged during his campaign to support legislation to end the death penalty.

Thereafter, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Justice Department has permitted the continuation of two capital prosecutions and withdrawn from pursuing death in more than two dozen cases. Garland also instituted a moratorium on federal executions in 2021 pending a review of procedures.

Though the moratorium does not prevent prosecutors from seeking death sentences, the Justice Department has done so sparingly.

It successfully sought the death penalty for an anti-semitic gunman who murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which had been authorised as a death penalty case before Garland became attorney general.

Last year, it went ahead with an effort to get the death sentence against a man who killed eight people on a New York City bike path, though a lack of a unanimous jury meant that prosecution resulted in a life sentence.

But the Justice Department has declined to pursue the death penalty in other mass killings.



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