Supremacist Who Killed 10 Black People in Buffalo Supermarket Faces Death Penalty

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Federal prosecutors have announced their decision to seek the death penalty against a white supremacist who perpetrated a deadly attack at a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10 Black people.

Payton Gendron, 20, 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. New York does not have capital punishment, but the Justice Department had the option of pursuing the death penalty in a separate federal hate crimes case.

The decision to seek the death penalty is significant as it marks the first time President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has authorized a new pursuit of the death penalty. The attack involved substantial planning, and the location was chosen to “maximize the number of Black victims,” according to Trini Ross, the U.S. attorney for western New York.

Relatives of the victims have expressed mixed views on whether federal prosecutors should pursue the death penalty. Some believe it provides a pathway to relief and closure, while others would have preferred Gendron to spend his life behind bars.

Federal death penalty cases have become rare since Biden, a Democrat who opposes capital punishment, took office. 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Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Justice Department has permitted the continuation of two capital prosecutions and withdrawn from pursuing death in more than two dozen cases.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 instituted a moratorium on federal executions in 2021 pending a review of procedures, and the department has pursued the death penalty sparingly.

Gendron carried out his attack on May 14, 2022, using a semi-automatic marked with racial slurs and phrases, including “The Great Replacement,” a reference to a conspiracy theory about diminishing the influence of White people. Prosecutors met with family members of victims before making the decision to seek the death penalty public.

The Justice Department has declined to pursue the death penalty in other mass killings, including the attack in El Paso, Texas. The case is significant as it sheds light on the rare decision to pursue the death penalty in federal hate crimes cases, marking the first time President Biden’s Justice Department has authorized such a pursuit.