Death Penalty Pursued for White Supremacist in Buffalo Supermarket Massacre

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Justice Department announced on Friday that it intends to pursue the death penalty against a white supremacist who carried out a mass shooting, resulting in the deaths of 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket.

Payton Gendron, 20, who is currently serving a life sentence with no chance of parole after pleading guilty to state charges of murder and hate-motivated domestic terrorism in the 2022 attack, may now face the death penalty in a separate federal hate crimes case.

This decision signifies the first time that President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has authorized a new pursuit of the death penalty. The case was authorized after Trini Ross, the U.S. attorney for western New York, highlighted the significant planning that went into the shooting and the choice of location, which was intended to “maximize the number of Black victims.”

Relatives of the victims expressed varied opinions on whether federal prosecutors should seek the death penalty, with some preferring for Gendron to spend his life behind bars. Despite this, the government’s decision to pursue the death penalty was met with disappointment by Gendron’s attorney, Sonya Zoghlin.

The Justice Department has been sparing in its pursuit of federal death penalty cases under the leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland, who instituted a moratorium on federal executions in 2021 pending a review of procedures.

Gendron carried out his attack on May 14, 2022, using a semi-automatic rifle to shoot eight supermarket customers, the store security guard, and a church deacon. Three people were wounded but survived. The rifle he used was marked with racial slurs and phrases, indicating a motive tied to white supremacist ideology.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul expressed support for the federal government’s decision, emphasizing that the victims were targeted because of their race.