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What’s next for Buffalo mass shooting suspect? ‘I would expect them to seek the death penalty,' says legal analyst

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Posted at 4:24 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 17:38:40-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The suspect in the mass shooting at Tops on Jefferson Avenue is due in court Thursday for a felony hearing. But there are two things that may happen before then, absolving the need for the felony hearing.

"I expect that he'll be indicted, but I also expect that the Department of Justice and the Assistant United States Attorney General Trini Ross will bring federal charges, federal hate crime charges, against the suspect. It carries the death penalty," New York Attorney General Letita James said.

7 News Legal Expert Florina Altshiler said she expects the federal case and state case will move forward concurrently.

"Different charges, that's why they can happen concurrently. The federal case would be for federal hate crime charges. The reason for the federal case happening is the federal government can do things that the state government can not," Altshiler said.

In New York State, there is no death penalty. The highest level of punishment is life without the possibility of parole.

"However, in a federal case, if they chose to, they could go forward to see the death penalty," Altshiler said, "I think if we look at other cases to see what the federal government has done, for example the Boston Marathon bomber case, yes. I would expect them to seek the death penalty."

The defense withdrew its request for a competency evaluation, so the state case will proceed with the suspect considered competent to stand trial, if there is a trial. There's the possibility of a plea deal, but Altshiler said that's unlikely.

"In a case as egregious as this, I would not expect the District Attorney's Office to offer him any breaks at all," Altshiler said.

In addition to federal and state criminal proceedings, there will likely be numerous civil lawsuits.

"There's possibility for liability for the person and shop that sold the weapon. There's a possibility for liability of the medical center who potentially breached a duty of care and released this criminal defendant early," Altshiler said.

One of the guns that law enforcement discovered in the suspect's car was a gift from the his father. Altshiler said depending on the evidence, his parents could be held legally accountable as well.

"In this case, we don't know yet. I'm certain they're looking into the parents. They are investigating what if anything the parents knew," Altshiler said.

There is also potential liability for those who failed to follow New York's Red Flag Laws.

"If someone makes a murder suicide threat, as this individual did, the person would be red flagged and should not be able to purchase a weapon here. That didn't happen," Altshiler said.

Altshiler said the state's Red Flag Law could have prevented this mass shooting.

"This is where I say there's a lot of room for civil liability in this case. If people do what they're supposed to do, potentially this could have been prevented. But because people did not do what they were supposed to do, because people were negligent in allowing this to happen, it did happen," Altshiler said.