A white supremacist who killed 10 black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket last year was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after hearing relatives of the victims express their pain and anger. Payton Gendron’s sentence was interrupted when he was accused by a man in the audience, who was quickly overpowered. It resumed about 10 minutes later, with more emotional testimony from those who spoke of losing loved ones in the attack.
Gendron, whose hatred was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the statements and apologized in a brief statement. In November, he pleaded guilty to murder and hate-motivated domestic terrorism, a charge that carries an automatic life sentence.
On May 14, the 19-year-old man, wearing bulletproof armor and a helmet equipped with a live camera, carried out the attack with a legally purchased semi-automatic rifle but modified to carry illegal high-capacity magazines. Gendron faces separate federal indictments that could carry the death penalty if the Justice Department decides to seek the death penalty. His defense attorney said in December that Gendron was willing to plead guilty in federal court to avoid execution.
Wednesday’s sentencing hearing was suspended because Barbara Massey angered Mapps Gendron over the murder of her 72-year-old sister Catherine Massey. When Mapps yelled and pointed at Gendron, a man in the audience took a few steps towards him and was stopped. “You have no idea what we’re going through,” the man yelled as he was led away by court officials.
After a few minutes, the family hugged and calmed down. Judge Susan Eagan ordered Gendron to go inside and the case resumed about 10 minutes later, admonishing everyone to “behave properly”. “I understand the emotion and the anger, but we can’t have that emotion in court,” Egan said.
The sentencing is an opportunity for the families of the dead, as well as those injured in the attack, to express their grief and outrage. Some angrily denounced Gendron. Others quoted the Bible or said they would pray for him. Some accused him of deliberately attacking a black community far from his almost entirely white hometown.
“You’re brainwashed,” said Wayne Jones Sr., the only son of victim Celestine Chaney, as sobbing came from the audience. “You don’t even know black people enough to hate them. You learned about them on the internet and that’s a big mistake.” I hope you have the heart to apologize to these people, man. You are doing it wrong for no reason. Kimberly Salter, the widow of security officer Aaron Salter, said she and her family wore “red because of the blood he shed for his family and community and black because we’re still mourning.”
Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, said he was followed when he saw the victim as he was being carried out of the store.