Federal prosecutors announced on Friday, Jan. 12, their intention to pursue the death penalty for Payton Gendron, a 20-year-old White man responsible for a racist rampage that claimed the lives of 10 Black shoppers at a Buffalo grocery store in May 2022. Prosecutors revealed the decision in a court filing before a scheduled status conference hearing at the Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse in Buffalo.
Gendron is already serving a life sentence without parole after pleading guilty to New York state murder charges in November 2022. Defense attorneys have expressed Gendron’s willingness to plead guilty to federal hate crimes and weapons violations if prosecutors choose not to pursue the death penalty.
“Today’s decision by the Department of Justice provides a pathway to both relief and a measure of closure for the victims and their families,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. “They have been pleading for full justice for nearly two years, and today they are one step closer. We thank the DOJ for its diligence and for fighting for those whose lives were so tragically affected by this atrocity. We ask that you continue to keep the victims, their families, and the entire Buffalo community in your prayers as they continue to grieve and pursue full justice for those who were stolen from them.”
The announcement follows a nearly 20-month Justice Department case review, marking the first time Attorney General Merrick Garland has authorized a new capital prosecution. President Joe Biden, who campaigned against the death penalty, faced criticism from civil rights groups, arguing that the death penalty historically and disproportionately affects racial minorities and the poor. Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, which remains in place but does not prevent prosecutors from seeking a death sentence.
In 2023, emotions ran high at a sentencing hearing as the sister of one of the victims confronted Gendron. Chaos erupted when an enraged man charged at the defendant, leading to authorities rushing Gendron out of the courtroom. After returning, Judge Susan Egan acknowledged the pain experienced by the victims’ families but emphasized the need for appropriate conduct.
Gendron, who had targeted a specific predominantly Black Buffalo zip code, admitted to the racially charged massacre. He said he regretted his actions, attributing them to online hate and the belief in the “replacement theory.” Gendron was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Egan, who condemned his ideologies as “ignorant, hateful, and evil.”
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent.