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'This trial has the potential to teach': A community leader voices thoughts on death penalty for Tops' shooter

America Gun Violence Giving Up
Posted at 10:17 AM, Sep 18, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Tops mass shooter Payton Gendron's defense attorneys are meeting with the Department of Justice Capital Case Committee today to decide whether Gendron will face the death penalty.

The meeting will allow Gendron's attorneys to try and persuade Attorney General Merrick Garland from pursing the death penalty. Last year, Garland called the shooting "a death penalty-eligible crime."

Gendron is facing 27 federal charges for killing 10 people in a racially-motivated attack at the Tops Supermarket on Jefferson Avenue. He has already been sentenced to life in New York State after pleading guilty to more than 10 charges for the shooting last May.

Among the victims families and those affected by the shooting, there are still mixed feelings towards whether Gendron should face the death penalty.

We spoke with community leader Zeneta Everhart, whose son survived the mass shooting, about her stance on the pending decision. She emphasized that personally and spiritually, she is against the death penalty. However, for this case, she feels it is necessary.

If Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice decides to pursue the death penalty, the case will be sent to a federal trial.

Everhart said it's not a matter of her opinion of how he should be punished, but it's a matter of what can come out of the trial if Gendron is sentenced to death.

"We can legislate guns. We can legislate what people are learning in schools, but we can’t legislate what people are thinking," Everhart said. "The only way to get to how we fix the way people think (about racism) is to put it in the public eye. For me this trial has the potential to teach.”

Although a death sentence would extend the amount of time until Gendron's case is settled, Everhart said time is no worry for her.

"For me, I appreciate the time," Everhart said. "This is such a high profile case and I want to be sure that it is done right. If that means it's going to take longer, I'm okay with that."

According to a court filing by Gendron's lawyers, if the death penalty is not pursued, Gendron would automatically plea guilty and a life sentence without parole would be imposed. No trial would be necessary for this.

A decision on Gendron's case is expected to come as early as Wednesday after the federal court hearings.