DOJ to seek death penalty against white supremacist who killed 10 people at Buffalo Tops

The Justice Department plans to seek the death penalty for the white gunman who killed 10 people and injured three in a racist shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

In a court filing Friday, the DOJ listed several reasons it believes the death penalty is warranted, including the impact the May 14, 2022, shooting had on the victims and survivors. It also stated that the shooter, Payton Gendron, intentionally killed Roberta Drury, Pearl Young, Heyward Patterson, Ruth Whitfield, Celestine Chaney, Aaron Salter, Jr., Andre Mackniel, Margus Morrison, Katherine Massey, and Geraldine Talley at Tops Friendly Markets.

Gendron was indicted in 2022 on 27 federal counts, including murder, discharging a firearm and hate crimes.

This move by the DOJ is a first for President Joe Biden’s administration.

Mark Talley, the son of Geraldine Talley, said he understands the decision but would have “preferred he spend the rest of his life in prison suffering every day.”

“I’m not necessarily disappointed in the decision … it would have satisfied me knowing, knowing more he would have spent the rest of his life in prison being surrounded by the population of people he tried to kill,” Talley said.

The families of two other victims agreed.

Investigators work at a Tops Friendly Market
Investigators work the scene of the Saturday shooting at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y. on May 16, 2022.Matt Rourke / AP file

Frederick Morrison, the brother of Margus Morrison, said the DOJ’s decision was “painful” and “not right.”

Michelle Fryson, who lost two relatives in the shooting, called it a “gut blow.”

“Never did I ever wish that he would have the death penalty. Conversely, I was hoping that he would be able to take some time to process things for a very long time,” said Fryson, the cousin of Margus and the niece of Pearl Young, whom many called “Pearly.”

“So that was a gut punch to me. And it almost seems like there will never be a resolve,” Fryson told reporters. “And I think that’s the hard part. When something like this magnitude, massacre of this magnitude occurs, everybody wants to be able to bring some closure if you will and it is not in sight.”

Attorneys for some of the victims and families said the decision to seek the death penalty will “provide a pathway to both relief and a measure of closure.”

“We thank the DOJ for its diligence and for fighting for those whose lives were so tragically affected by this atrocity,” attorneys Ben Cump, Terry Connors and Fu Zimmermann said in a joint statement. “We ask that you continue to keep the victims, their families, and the entire Buffalo community in your prayers as they continue to grieve and pursue full justice for those who were stolen from them.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she agrees with the decision.

“This complies with the DOJ requirements for what constitutes a death penalty offense,” she said at a scheduled news conference Friday to discuss weather preparations ahead of a winter storm.

She said the community is “reeling from the atrocity of 10 innocent people” who were “simply going around shopping and were targeted simply because of the color of their skin.”

“So I support the Department of Justice,” she said.

Gendron, 20, was dressed in tactical gear when he unleashed a fury of gunfire in the parking lot of the grocery store, authorities said. He had streamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch. 

Three people were fatally shot and one was wounded in the parking lot. He then entered the store where he was confronted by Salter, a security guard at the store. Salter fired rounds at Gendron but officials said they did not appear to penetrate Gendron’s ballistic gear.

Gendron shot and killed Salter before killing others.

A document Gendron posted online claimed he had been radicalized and appeared to adhere to the “false replacement” theory, which white killers have used to justify violence against Muslims, Latinos and Jewish people around the world.

According to the document, Gendron, who lived hours away, chose Buffalo because it was the city with the most Black residents closest to his home. Of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black and two were white.

Last year, he was sentenced in a New York court to life in prison without the possibility of parole. During his sentencing, he apologized while acknowledging that he killed the victims because of their race.