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DOJ seeks death penalty in federal prosecution of Buffalo mass shooter

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) has declared its intent to pursue the death penalty in the federal case against Payton Gendron, a white supremacist convicted of killing 10 Black individuals during a horrifying attack on a Buffalo supermarket in 2022.

Gendron, already serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for state charges related to murder and hate-motivated domestic terrorism, faces this additional legal pursuit by federal prosecutors.

Although New York lacks capital punishment, federal hate crimes legislation provides a pathway for seeking the death penalty. Gendron had previously offered to plead guilty to federal charges in exchange for prosecutors refraining from seeking capital punishment. The decision to pursue the death penalty was announced by Trini Ross, the U.S. attorney for western New York, who emphasized that Gendron deliberately targeted the supermarket to maximize the number of Black victims.

This marks the first instance where Attorney General Merrick Garland has authorized the renewed pursuit of the death penalty since assuming office. Garland’s tenure has seen the continuation of two capital prosecutions and a withdrawal from seeking death in over two dozen cases, aligning with President Joe Biden’s opposition to capital punishment. The DOJ’s approach to federal death penalty cases has become increasingly rare, with a moratorium on executions in place since 2021, pending a thorough review of procedures.

Gendron’s deadly rampage on May 14, 2022, involved the targeted attack of shoppers and workers at a Buffalo supermarket, leaving behind a tragic toll of eight customers, a store security guard, and a church deacon who assisted shoppers. The shooter livestreamed the massacre, choosing the location for its proximity to a predominantly Black neighborhood. Gendron’s rifle, marked with racial slurs and extremist phrases, revealed a disturbing alignment with hateful ideologies.

While the pursuit of the death penalty has been met with mixed reactions from the victims’ families in Buffalo, the DOJ’s decision underscores the gravity of the case and its potential implications for federal capital punishment policies under the Biden administration.

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