BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The man who committed the racist act of violence against those inside the Jefferson Avenue Tops Friendly Markets location on May 14 received 11 life sentences on state charges Wednesday morning.
The sentencing of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Payton Gendron, now 19, was expected. One of the 15 charges he pleaded guilty to in November, domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate, automatically carries that sentence.
On May 14 — nine months ago Tuesday — 10 people were killed and three others were injured when Gendron, a Broome County resident, opened fire inside the East Buffalo grocery store. Each person he killed was Black.
Here are the names of those who were killed in the act of domestic terrorism:
- Ruth Whitfield, 86
- Roberta Drury, 32
- Andre Mackniel, 53
- Aaron Salter, 55
- Heyward Patterson, 67
- Pearl Young, 77
- Katherine Massey, 72
- Margus Morrison, 52
- Geraldine Talley, 62
- Celestine Chaney, 65
In late November, Gendron admitted to the following state charges:
- domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree
- murder in the first degree (10 counts)
- attempted murder in the second degree, as a hate crime (3 counts)
- criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, an armed felony
Gendron was the first person in New York to be indicted, as well as convicted, on the charge of domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree. He had also been indicted on 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, but those counts were automatically dismissed due to his admission to the first-degree murder charges.
Gendron was expected to apologize for his actions at his sentencing after family members of the victims have a chance to share their victim impact statements. A family member whose mother was killed in the attack told News 4 he felt an apology would be an insincere attempt to avoid the death penalty in the federal case.
Families of Victims Speak In Court
Wednesday morning’s sentencing began with those victim impact statements. Former Buffalo police officer Aaron Salter’s widow, Kimberly Salter, was the first to speak.
As those impacted read their statements, Gendron could be seen crying in court. Katherine Massey’s sister, Barbara, was the sixth to speak, and while she was behind the podium, a man lunged at Gendron.
The mass shooter was swiftly moved out of the room and proceedings were briefly paused. Judge Susan Eagan also left the room, returning minutes later.
(Warning: The video below contains strong language.)
As order was being restored, Gendron’s attorneys left the courtroom and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn entered to discuss what occurred with assistant district attorneys.
The judge, as she returned, asked for civil behavior in the courtroom, and requested that those who may be feeling overwhelmed step out into the hall.
“I understand the anger,” she said. “But we cannot have that in the courtroom.”
Gendron, lacking the tears he had before, was brought back into the room and Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman survived after being shot, was next to speak.
We also heard from one of the survivors of the shooting — Christopher Braden, who said “visions haunt me in my sleep every night and most days.”
Multiple people who spoke expressed that they don’t wish for Gendron to die, hoping that he suffers with the knowledge of what he did for the rest of his life.
(In the video above, Michelle Spight, niece of Pearl Young and cousin of Margus Morrison, addresses the mass shooter.)
Shooter Speaks Before Sentencing
After hearing from family members of those impacted by the shooting, assistant district attorney Justin Caldwell spoke on behalf of the families who did not provide a victim impact statement.
“He thought everyone has as much hate in their hearts as he does,” Caldwell said of the shooter.
Asking for the maximum sentence, Caldwell told the judge, “This sentencing is an opportunity to say no to racism, to say no to hate.”
One of Gendron’s attorneys, Brian Parker, spoke after this.
“The racist hate that motivated this crime was spread through online platforms, and the violence that was made possible was due to the easy access of assault weapons,” Parker said.
Following Parker was Gendron, who took a drink of water before reading a brief apology in which he said “I am very sorry for stealing the lives of your loved ones.”
“I did a terrible thing that day,” Gendron said. “I shot and killed people because they were Black.”
Gendron said he “can’t believe I actually did it.”
“I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me and what I did,” he concluded.
As he was reading this statement, one person in the courtroom could be heard shouting “You don’t mean that s—.”
Judge Eagan, before sentencing him, said “I am both immensely proud of and grateful for how Buffalo has rejected the evil and hate that was projected on our community.”
“The ugly truth is that our nation was founded and built in part on white supremacy,” she said.
Before delivering his sentence, Judge Eagan said “There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances. The damage you have caused is too great.”
In addition to the 11 life sentences the shooter received, he was also sentenced to three consecutive 25-year sentences for attempted murder and an additional 15-year sentence for the weapon charge.
“You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again,” Judge Eagan said.
Before Gendron’s sentencing began Wednesday morning, legal analyst Chris Pannozzo joined us to discuss what was expected in court. Hear what he shared with us in the video below:
In addition to the state charges, Gendron has also been indicted on 27 federal counts, including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death. If convicted in federal court, he could be sentenced to death. His next federal court appearance will take place on Thursday.
Gendron was not sentenced to death on Wednesday; that is only in play in the federal case against him.
After the Sentencing
In a conference with attorneys following Wednesday’s sentencing, Parker said Gendron will not be appealing his sentence.
DA John Flynn said the sentencing “puts a legal closure to this tragic incident,” but “certainly” does not put closure on what needs 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.”
Flynn, noting Gendron “is never getting out of jail,” says the only real decision left to be made in this process is whether or not Gendron gets the death penalty.”
“This clearly was an act of domestic terrorism motivated by hate, and clearly, this individual was guilty. We all saw it.” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, coming to the microphone after Flynn.
It was a very emotional scene inside the courtroom Wednesday morning.
“If you had any human feeling whatsoever, it was hard to hold it together in that courtroom,” Brown said.
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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.