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The Justice Department has indicated in a court filing Friday that it is intending to seek the death penalty for Buffalo supermarket shooter Payton Gendron.

Gendron, 20, is already serving a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole after he pleaded guilty to state charges of murder and hate-motivated domestic terrorism in the May 2022 attack that left 10 Black people dead at a Tops grocery store.

New York does not have capital punishment, but the Justice Department had the option of seeking the death penalty in a separate federal hate crimes case. Gendron had promised to plead guilty in that case if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

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


Relatives of the victims were informed about the Justice Department’s decision in a private meeting Friday morning with prosecutors at the federal courthouse in Buffalo, according to The Buffalo News.

The Associated Press reports that this is the first time Attorney General Merrick Garland has authorized a new pursuit of the death penalty. Under his leadership, the Justice Department has permitted the continuation of two capital prosecutions and withdrawn from pursuing death in more than two dozen cases, it added.

Federal prosecutors filed a document saying “The United States of America, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a), notifies the Court and Defendant PAYTON GENDRON that the United States believes the circumstances in Counts 11-20 of the Indictment, Dkt. 6, are such that, in the event of a conviction, a sentence of death is justified under 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-98, and that the United States will seek the sentence of death for these offenses: Use and Discharge of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and (j).”


Tops supermarket shooting scene with armed police outside

Gendron’s state sentencing hearing was interrupted at one point in February 2023 by a man who lunged at Gendron while a family member was reading a victim impact statement, and the shooter himself was seen weeping as relatives of those who lost their loved ones delivered remarks.

“I’m very sorry for the pain. I forced the victims and their families to suffer through. I’m very sorry for stealing the lives of your loved ones,” Gendron told the courtroom just prior to learning his fate. “I cannot express how much I regret all the decisions I made leading up to my actions on May 14th.

“I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black. Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it,” he added. “I believed what I read online and acted out of hate. I know I can’t take it back. But I wish I could. And I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me and what I did.”

Family member of Buffalo shooting victim rushes at Payton Gendron


A prosecutor representing the Erie County District Attorney’s Office called Gendron’s state sentence “an opportunity to say no to racism, to say no to hate, our chance to hold this defendant accountable and show others that think like the defendant, that these acts have no place in our society and that there will be dire consequences.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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