Jun 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge says DOJ must decide if it wants to seek death penalty for Buffalo shooting suspect

FBI agents investigating the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in May 2022. Photo: Libby March for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A federal judge said Thursday that the Department of Justice must decide whether it seeks the death penalty for the man accused of killing 10 people during a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, in May, according to Reuters.

Driving the news: The Justice Department charged Payton Gendron, 18, with 26 counts of federal hate crimes and firearm violations on Wednesday, though Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to say if the department will seek the death penalty as punishment.

Why it matters: Garland ordered a moratorium on federal executions last year while the Justice department reviews its death penalty policies and procedures, and President Biden has publicly opposed the death penalty.

Gendron was charged with 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving bodily injury and attempt to kill, 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a violent crime.

  • The charges carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

What they're saying: Western District of New York Judge Kenneth Schroeder said Thursday the U.S. must make a decision because Gendron will be represented by federal public defender paid for by taxpayers and cases that are execution eligible are typically very expensive, according to Reuters.

  • He said the federal government in previous death penalty eligible cases spent large amounts of money on a defendant's legal defense costs before deciding that it would not seek an execution.
  • "I also have an obligation to the taxpayers of this country to conserve and preserve as much as is reasonably possible their assets," he said, according to Reuters. "I would hope the Department of Justice would undertake steps that would reasonably bring about a quick decision."
  • Garland said on Wednesday that the department would receive input from survivors and the families of the victims while deciding whether to seek Gendron's execution.

The big picture: A grand jury has not returned an indictment against Gendron for the charges issued by the Justice Department on Thursday, so he also has not entered a plea.

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