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The Buffalo Tops shooter has been sentenced to life in prison without parole

A person stands at a memorial for the victims of the May 2022 shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Spencer Platt
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Getty Images
A person stands at a memorial for the victims of the May 2022 shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.

Updated February 15, 2023 at 11:38 AM ET

The 19-year-old white gunman who killed 10 Black people and injured three others at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., last year has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan handed down the sentence during a hearing on Wednesday.

"There is no place for you or your ignorant, hateful and evil ideologies in a civilized society. There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances," Eagan said.

"The damage you have caused is too great, and the people you have hurt are too valuable to this community. You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again," she added.

Payton Gendron pleaded guilty in November to 15 criminal charges — including a first-degree domestic terrorism charge that comes with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole — following the deadly racist attack at a Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

For much of the roughly two-hour hearing, family members of those who were shot and one man who was injured in the shooting gave emotional victim impact statements to a crowded courtroom.

Simone Crawley, whose 86-year-old grandmother Ruth Whitfield was killed in the attack, told Gendron that her grandmother's legacy will outlive him.

"You will simply go from a name to a number. You will be herded like cattle. You will be shut away from the world," Crawley said. "Even with all of the heartache you have caused, you have failed to break our family's spirit. You thought you broke us, but you awoke us."

Gendron, who was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, bowed his head and appeared to be crying at times during the statements from victims' family members.

Barbara Massey Mapps berated Gendron and shared memories of her sister, Kat, who was also shot and killed at Tops.

"Kat would do anything for anybody any time," Massey Mapps said. "You have made me sick. You got my family crying. I miss my sister every day."

At one point while Massey Mapps was speaking, a man lunged toward Gendron and was restrained by police, while other officers quickly escorted Gendron out of the courtroom. The hearing paused briefly before resuming.

Toward the end of the proceeding, Gendron made a brief statement in which he apologized to the families of the victims for carrying out the racist massacre.

"I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black," said Gendron, who spoke from the defense table. "Looking back now I can't believe I actually did it."

Gendron also faces federal hate crimes charges

Gendron is also scheduled to appear in federal court this week after being indicted on 27 charges, including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill and one additional hate crimes count, along with 13 counts of using, carrying or discharging a firearm.

He originally pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, but according to his attorneys, the gunman was willing to plead guilty to the federal charges if prosecutors agreed to spare him the death penalty, CNN reported in December.

The attorney general will decide at a later date on whether to seek the death penalty, according to the Justice Department. Gendron has been held without bail since his arrest after the May 2022 shooting.

Life without parole is New York's highest sentence

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the judge will be required to sentence Gendron to life without parole for pleading guilty to the domestic terrorism charge.

New York does not have capital punishment, having formally abolishedit in 2004.

Flynn also said Gendron is the first person in the state's history to plead guilty to that charge and that no one has yet been convicted of it either.

In a news conference after Gendron's pleas were made in November, Flynn called the case "a poster child for swift justice."

"This racist murderer did not accomplish what he set out to do. Because today, this community is stronger and better than it ever was. ... Love always conquers hate," Flynn said at the time.

Also in November, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told reporters it was emotional to be among those in the courtroom and hearing the pleas.

"It is important for this community to hear how these precious lives were snatched from us for no other reason than the color of their skin," Brown said.

Brown has also called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, citing the number of mass shootings nationwide since May. The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization tracking gun violence, recorded 648 mass shootings in 2022.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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