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(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department won’t decide until 2023 whether to seek the death penalty for Buffalo supermarket shooter Payton Gendron, but Gendron’s lawyer reiterated Friday that he’s willing to plead guilty to the federal charges in exchange for a life sentence.
Gendron, who fatally shot 10 Black people at a Tops supermarket in May, pleaded guilty last month to state charges including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate. He carried out the attack “because of the perceived race and/or color” of the victims, according to the indictment by the Erie County district attorney.
Gendron is charged federally with hate crime resulting in death, hate crime involving bodily injury, use of a firearm to commit murder and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
“It is still our hope to resolve this matter short of a trial,” defense attorney Sonya Zoghlin said during a hearing Friday. “He is prepared to enter a plea of guilty in federal court in exchange for a life sentence.”
In the meantime, Zoghlin asked the judge for extra time to review the “voluminous” discovery material turned over by the government.
But Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder responded, “I don’t see the necessity of having a lot of time spent on discovery materials that relate solely to the factual substantive issues to which the defendant pleaded guilty. The issue now for the defense is to focus on mitigation as to why there should not be a federal death sentence.”
Schroeder agreed to give the defense until March 10, 2023, to review discovery and, simultaneously, negotiate with federal prosecutors over a possible plea agreement.
“The defendant has entered a plea of guilty to similar but unrelated charges in state of New York proceedings,” Schroeder said. “So it seems to me the issue of guilt or innocence on the federal charges is basically moot by reason of the defendant’s own admissions in the state court.”
Schroeder also questioned whether a federal trial is even necessary if the Justice Department ultimately decides against seeking the death penalty.
“Obviously you can’t have two consecutive life sentences because Mr. Gendron only has one life to live,” Schroeder said.
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