Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DOJ seeks death penalty for Tops massacre gunman

  Payton Gendron is led into the courtroom for a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, May 19, 2022. (File)
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Payton Gendron is led into the courtroom for a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, May 19, 2022. (File)

The U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing the death penalty for Payton Gendron, the gunman federally charged with killing 10 Black people, and injuring three other people, in the racially motivated mass shooting at Tops Friendly Markets on May 14, 2022.

Prosecutors filed a notice to seek the death penalty on Friday for the murders of Roberta Drury, Pearl Young, Heyward Patterson, Aaron W. Salter, Jr., Andre Mackniel, Margus Morrison, Katherine Massey, Celestine Chaney, Ruth Whitfield and Geraldine Talley.

Gendron did not appear in court Friday. Presiding Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo said that he would like to see Gendron in court "sooner rather than later" but will not require it for the next hearing.

Prosecutors and lawyers for the defense agreed to adjourn and return to court on February 2, 2024 at 9:30 a.m. for trial scheduling and oral arguments in the pre-trial motions. Both parties will discuss scheduling during the adjournment.

A Speedy Trial Act waiver was also continued through February 2. Under the Speedy Trial Act, a trial must be scheduled within 70 days of indictment or appearance, unless a waiver is provided. So, the 70 days have not begun.

Terrance "Terry" Connors, the lawyer for some of the families said he thinks the earliest the trial may begin is by the end of 2024. Zeneta Everhart, mother of surviving victim Zaire Goodman, said while families would like for this to be over as soon as possible, she said when the trial happens won't change the fact the pain will continue regardless.

"There should be a trial, the country should see what happened that day, they should know what led up to that, right?" Everhart said. "They should hear all about the manifesto and the guns that are used and modified, and the country has to hear that.

"He should be here. He did this. He should be held accountable and he should have to face us."

Gendron's lawyers previously said he would be willing to plead guilty in the federal case, if they did not seek the death penalty.

Gendron is charged with 10 counts each of intentional killing, intentional infliction of serious bodily injury, intentional participation in an act resulting in death, intentional engagement in an act of violence, knowing that the act created grave risk of death to a person, as well as several lesser charges.

The federal case should have limited effects on the civil case, Connors said.

"We are in the motion practice now, but the discovery process will continue," he said. "We'll try to get the evidence we can from the parties that we are seeking to hold accountable, so that's the gun industry, that's the social media platforms. This information in the criminal case is something that could be helpful to us, but not essential."

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has voiced support for the DOJ's charges, stressing that Gendron's case is what fits the criteria for a death penalty.

"This complies with the DOJ requirements for what constitutes a death penalty offense," she said. "And this community is still reeling from the atrocity of 10 innocent people on May 14, 2022, simply going about shopping and were targeted, targeted because of the color of their skin by a white supremacist who was radicalized online. So I support the Department of Justice."

Gendron was convicted at the state level in February 2023, receiving a sentence of life in prison without parole, on 15 state charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder.

Copyright 2024 WBFO. To see more, visit WBFO.

Alex Simone
Emyle Watkins
Holly Kirkpatrick