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Tops Friendly Markets Mass Shooter Faces Federal Death Penalty

Justice Dept. to seek death penalty for Buffalo mass killer

Payton Gendron, 20, is facing federal charges for fatally shooting 10 Black people in a racist attack in 2022

Federal prosecutors on Friday announced plans to seek the death penalty for Payton Gendron, a White man who fatally shot 10 Black people in a racist rampage at a Buffalo grocery store in May 2022.

Authorities gave notice in a court filing ahead of a status conference hearing planned in the afternoon at the Robert H. Jackson federal courthouse in Buffalo.

Gendron, 20, faces federal charges on hate crimes and weapons violations for the massacre at the Tops Friendly Markets. He already is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to New York state murder charges in November 2022.

Defense attorneys have said he would plead guilty to the federal counts if prosecutors elected to forgo the death penalty.

The decision Friday, coming after a Justice Department case review that took nearly 20 months, marked the first time that Attorney General Merrick Garland has authorized a new capital prosecution. President Biden campaigned against the death penalty, echoing concerns from civil rights groups that say the punishment unfairly targets racial minorities and the poor.

In 2021, Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions, which remains in place but does not block prosecutors from seeking a death sentence. Gendron, if sentenced to death, would spend years on federal death row pending likely appeals by his defense team.

The case will now move toward a capital trial that, once started, could take weeks. Death penalty prosecutions unfold in two parts. Jurors must first weigh a defendant's guilt or innocence; if the person is convicted, the proceedings shift to the penalty phase, which determines the punishment.

In August, the Justice Department won a death sentence against Robert Bowers, 50, a White man who fatally shot 11 Jewish people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.

That case began during the Trump administration, and prosecutors elected to bring it to trial after a review when Garland took office in 2021. The outcome marked the first federal death sentence in four years.

DOJ: Victim Notification - United States v. Payton Gendron

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