BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As the prospect of the death penalty for Tops mass shooter Payton Gendron looms in the federal case against him, multiple family members of shooting victims were outspoken against the death penalty during and after Wednesday’s sentencing on state charges.
Gendron’s legal focus will now transition to federal case, in which the death penalty is on the table, after receiving 11 life sentences without the possibility of parole in the state case.
A status conference regarding the federal case is scheduled for Thursday. New York State does not have the death penalty.
During Wednesday’s court proceedings, family members of victims brought up the death penalty a number of times while sharing impact statements before the sentencing. Most said they opposed the death penalty for Gendron, instead wanting him to remain alive to suffer for the rest of his life in prison.
Wayne Jones, the son of shooting victim Celestine Chaney, made his feelings on the death penalty clear. Looking directly at Gendron, he said he believed putting the self-proclaimed white supremacist to death would be giving him a pass.
“I don’t wish the death penalty on you – I wish they keep you alive,” Jones said, “so you have to suffer with the thought of what you did for the rest of your life. To me, killing you is the easy way out.”
Brian Talley, the brother-in-law of shooting victim Geraldine Talley, also looked directly at Gendron during his impact statement and said he hopes the mass shooter’s life is spared to allow him to suffer alone in prison.
“I pray to God they do not kill you,” Talley said. “Because I’ve been incarcerated. I know where you’re going. Where you’re going, solitary confinement for the rest of your life, by yourself, wearing this color green — that’s why I wore green today … I’m praying you wear this [color green] for the rest of your life.”
Zeneta Everhart, the mother of shooting survivor Zaire Goodman, echoed Jones and Talley’s sentiments in a press conference after the sentencing.
“He should be scared,” Everhart said. “This is why I’ve said over and over again that I don’t believe in the death penalty. Every day of the rest of his life, he should be scared. He should be fearful, he should not be able to sleep. He should not have a waking moment where he does not think about what he did.”
The 19-year-old’s apology in court Wednesday was viewed by some as an attempt to spare his life.
Last week, Mark Talley, son of Geraldine Talley, said that an apology would be insincere and an attempt to avoid the death penalty in the federal case. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn felt similarly.
“I anticipate that the reason why he said what he said today was to save his life in federal court,” Flynn said after the sentencing. “That’s probably the only reason why he said it … to me, it was not heartfelt at all.”
Flynn also noted during a post-sentencing press conference that he would “stay in his lane” regarding the federal prosecution and did not comment much further on the death penalty, though he did say it was “the only decision that really needs to be made in this entire process.”
Not all family members want Gendron’s life spared, however.
Barbara Massey, the sister of shooting victim Katherine Massey, said during a press conference following the sentencing that she believed Gendron staying in prison for the rest of his life is a waste of funds.
“I want the death penalty,” Massey said. “I don’t see wasting another dollar on him. He doesn’t care, he only made that statement because we have to go through federal next … He shot my sister in the head twice, and the death penalty is the only thing I want.”
No matter what ruling is made regarding the death penalty, Gendron will at least spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of probation or parole through Wednesday’s sentencing.
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Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.