The sentencing hearing of the man who admitted to killing 10 people in a racist shooting at an upstate New York grocery store erupted in chaos when one of the victim’s family members advanced on the defendant in an apparent attempt to attack him.
Payton Gendron, now 19, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the May 14, 2022, attack at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo that killed 10 people and wounded three. Gendron, who lived more than 200 miles away in Conklin, near the Pennsylvania border, was apparently motivated by a belief in the so-called “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which alleges that nonwhite people are being brought to the United States to “replace” white people.
Wearing body armor, a tactical-style helmet, and camouflage clothing, Gendron used a high-powered automatic rifle to gun down three people — Roberta Drury, Pearl Young, and Heyward Patterson — outside the store and seven people — Ruth Whitfield, Celestine Chaney, Aaron W. Satler, Jr., Andrew Mackniel, Margus Morrison, Katherine Massey, and Geraldine Talley — inside. All 10 of Gendron’s victims were Black, as were two of the three people he injured with gunfire. He had posted a racist screed online prior to driving more than two hours to carry out the attack, which he livestreamed online as it happened before ultimately surrendering to police.
According to prosecutors, Gendron had apologized only to the sole white person he shot that day. He pleaded guilty in November to all 25 state charges against him.
At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors said they expected 11 people to offer victim impact statements. One of those people was Barbara Massey, sister of Katherine “Kat” Massey.
“If Kat saw you, she probably went into her pocket and give you money, even though you don’t need it,” she said, after describing her sister as a “protector” who would “do anything for anybody, any time.”
Barbara Massey was the first victim to show anger toward Gendron, growing increasingly emotional as she spoke to the defendant.
“You leave 200 miles to come to Buffalo? You don’t even know any Black people,” she said. “Your little punk ass decided to come and kill my sister!”
As Massey’s sister faced Gendron and continued her statement, a man wearing a gray sweatsuit was seen passing her from behind and moving her out of his way as he quickly made strides toward the defense table. Court officials quickly descended on the man as Gendron, who had been surrounded by at least five court security officers since first entering the courtroom, was quickly rushed out.
Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan also left the bench at that time.
Shouting and yelling continued for several minutes, even after the man was restrained.
“How f—— dare you take him and you protect him!” a voice could be heard shouting. “F—— cowards! Cowards!”
Loud sobbing was also heard.
After about 10 minutes, the situation had calmed. Eagan returned to the bench, reminding people in the courtroom to refrain from such shows of emotions.
“I understand that emotion and I understand that anger,” the judge said. “But we cannot have that in the courtroom.”
Gendron returned to his seat at the defense table, and the hearing resumed.
“You Are a Cowardly Racist.”
Before the commotion, family members and relatives had given emotional and heart-wrenching statements about their loved ones. Some people spoke to the judge, while others spoke to Gendron himself.
“You will reap what you sow, more than you sow, later than you sow,” the wife of Aaron Satler said, quoting from the Bible.
“You are a cowardly racist,” a granddaughter of Ruth Whitfield said, addressing Gendron. “Every single person that has been instrumental in forming you […] needs to be held accountable, and not protected as they have been.”
She told the defendant that it was clear that he was not a “lone wolf” but instead a part of a “network of terrorists.”
“You recorded the last moments of our loved ones’ lives to garner support for your hateful cause, but you immortalized them instead,” Whitfield’s granddaughter added.
“Robbie was our youngest daughter,” the mother of Roberta Drury said. “When people ask how many children do you have, I don’t know what to say.”
Gendron’s face showed little emotion for most of the victim’s impact statements, although he did remove his glasses and bow his head as the niece of Geraldine Talley spoke.
“Do I hate you?” she asked Gendron. “No. Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life. Every day of your life, think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever. Forever.”
“He is dealing with a pain that I, as a mother, cannot heal,” said the mother of Zaire Goodman, who was struck in the neck by one of Gendron’s bullets.
She added that the ideology of racism and white supremacy “by some is labeled as a sickness or a disease.”
“It is not,” she continued. “Racism, hatred, and white supremacy are lifestyles that are chosen.”
“Only a weak human takes out their pain on others,” she said, adding that she will not forgive Gendron: “It is he who will need to ask for forgiveness.”
Gendron, given the opportunity to speak, offered a brief statement of apology.
“I am very sorry for all the pain I forced on the victims and their family,” he said. “I am very sorry for stealing the lives of your loved ones.”
“I cannot express how much I regret all the decisions I made leading up to my actions on May 14,” he also said, adding: “Looking back now I cannot believe I actually did it. I believed what I read online and I acted out of hate. I cannot take it back now, but I wish I could.”
“There Can Be No Mercy for You.”
It was expected that Gendron would be ordered to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He was the first to be prosecuted under New York’s novel hate crimes domestic terrorism act that took effect in November 2020, and according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, the only sentence under this charge is life without parole. New York state does not have the death penalty.
Eagan, too, took the opportunity to emphasize the value of acknowledging the impact of longstanding policies that emerged from the slavery and oppression that have existed in the U.S. since its founding.
“Our history is replete with both individual and systemic discriminatory practices, many of them still firmly in place today,” Eagan said, citing the system of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the GI Bill that excluded Black military servicemen, and other policies in what sounded like an almost direct rebuke to expanding efforts by state leaders to minimize the impact of systemic racism.
“The harsh reality is that white supremacy has been an insidious cancer on our society and nation since its inception and it undermines the notions of a meritocracy in the land of opportunity that we hold so dear,” Eagan also said, adding that white supremacy “is not inevitable or unstoppable.”
“This is the history that we have all inherited,” the judge said. “It has been passed down from generation to generation. We must acknowledge that history, see that history for what it is, recognize it, and learn from it, or we are doomed to repeat it. Let ours be the generation to put a stop to it. We can do better. We must do better. Our own humanity requires it.”
When it came time to issue the sentence, Eagan told Gendron that there is “no place” for his hateful ideology “in a civilized society.”
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” she 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.”
Eagan, clear and deliberate, went through each murder charge victim by victim, saying their names and offering personal information about each one. She noted that state law requires the life sentences for the murder charges to be served concurrently, but when it came time to sentence Gendron for the three attempted murder charges — each of which carries a 25-year sentence followed by five years of post-release supervision — the judge ordered that they be served consecutively.
She also explained to the defendant why she would not grant him “youthful offender status,” which New York law allows to prevent a lifelong stigma attached to young offenders who commit “hasty, thoughtless acts.”
“Given the manner in which you methodically planned, researched, conducted recognizance and executed your hateful crimes, a finding of youthful offender status is not appropriate,” the judge said. “There was nothing hasty or thoughtless about your conduct. There are no mitigating factors to be considered. You will be sentenced as an adult[.]”
Gendron also faces federal hate crime charges. He has a hearing scheduled in federal court Thursday.
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