BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County District Attorney John Flynn called the multiple life sentences imposed against the Tops mass shooter Wednesday morning “swift justice.”
It was a difficult morning for many, having to face the man who took the lives of their loved ones. 10 people were killed and three others were injured at the hands of Payton Gendron, a now-19-year-old who committed an atrocious act of racial hatred at the Tops store on Jefferson Avenue on May 14.
Assuring that he was certain the shooter acted alone, Flynn spoke after Gendron’s sentencing, in which he received 11 sentences of life in prison without parole, plus additional years on attempted murder and weapon charges.
Although he says Wednesday “puts a legal closure to this tragic incident,” Flynn said there’s “certainly” more to be done as a community.
“Swift justice was done. Not only was it swift, it was just,” Flynn said. “It was just in the sense that he pled guilty to every charge. He pled guilty, for the first time in the history of New York State, to the domestic terrorism charge motivated by hate.”
There’s only one real decision left in Flynn’s eyes, whether or not the mass shooter gets the death penalty. But that’s not up to the district attorney, or the State of New York for that matter.
New York does not have the death penalty, but United States law does, and Gendron faces the possibility of this if he’s convicted of the federal charges against him.
“You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again,” Judge Eagan said during Gendron’s sentencing, in which she read each victim’s name before giving Gendron each sentence of life in prison.
As he spoke in the post-sentencing conference, Flynn noted a number of times that he would “stay in his lane” regarding the federal prosecution against Gendron. This included not commenting on his view of the death penalty.
“People need to be held accountable for their actions,” Flynn said, sharing his opinion that some people, using Gendron as an example, needed to be “removed from society.”
The pandemic of violence America faces is multi-faceted, Flynn says.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” Flynn said. “Yes, we have a gun problem. Yes, we have a social media problem. But we also have a people problem, and that cannot be discounted.”
Flynn anticipates that Gendron will probably be transferred into federal custody by Thursday, the same day as his next federal court appearance.
It’s not clear whether Gendron will spend the rest of his life in a state prison or a federal one, but Flynn speculates that it will “probably be a federal center because they have more resources in the federal detention centers to house him in an appropriate environment.”
“The immediate future, obviously, is continuing to help these families,” Flynn said.
During Wednesday’s conference, Flynn spoke positively of the victims’ families and their cooperation with the case.
“The families were obviously upset that he came into the guilty plea with a haircut, looking like a little boy. The families felt that was a distortion,” he said.
Gendron’s family was not present for his sentencing. Flynn says he hasn’t spoken with them.
“They were not at any proceedings I’m aware of,” Flynn said.
Gendron’s upcoming court appearance Thursday morning will be a status hearing. Commenting on the shooter’s brief statement shared before he was sentenced, Flynn said “I anticipate that the reason why he said what he said today was to save his life in federal court.”
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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.