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News / Nation & World

N.Y. supermarket gunman’s lawyers say he should be exempt from the death penalty because he was 18

By Associated Press
Published: June 11, 2024, 5:08pm

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The gunman who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket should be exempt from the death penalty because he was 18 at the time of the attack, an age when the brain is still developing and more vulnerable to negative influences, his defense team said in a new court filing.

The science of brain development has advanced since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that said executing people under 18 years old was unconstitutional, Payton Gendron’s lawyers wrote. They cited newer research that indicates the brain may continue to develop into the early 20s.

“The science is … clear and uniform: People under 21 are not yet adults and should not be punished as such,” they said in the filing Monday, arguing against “executing individuals barely old enough to vote, unable to drink legally or rent a car, unable to serve in Congress, and still in the throes of cognitive development.”

Gendron, now 20, is serving 11 sentences of life without parole after pleading guilty to state charges of murder and hate-motivated terrorism for the May 14, 2022, shooting at a store he said he chose for its location in a largely Black neighborhood.

The government has said it would seek the death penalty if Gendron is convicted in a separate federal hate crimes case, set to go to trial next year.

In an additional motion Tuesday, Gendron’s attorneys argued for the dismissal of the federal indictment, questioning the constitutionality of the hate crimes statute and whether its enactment exceeded Congress’s authority.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo had no comment, spokeswoman Barbara Burns said.

“I respect the obligation of Gendron’s defense lawyers to raise every issue to effectively represent their client,” attorney Terrence Connors, who represents relatives of Gendron’s victims, said in an email, “but these issues, for the most part, have been decided adverse to Gendron’s position. Clearly, they are advancing the minority view.”

Investigators said Gendron, who is white, outlined his plans for the attack in an online diary that included step-by-step descriptions of his assault plans, a detailed account of a reconnaissance trip he made to Buffalo in March, and maps of the store that he drew by hand. He livestreamed the assault using a camera attached to a military helmet that he wore. In addition to killing 10 shoppers and store employees, he wounded three people, opening fire with an AR-style rifle first in the supermarket’s parking lot and then inside.

Gendron’s lawyers argue that the Supreme Court’s protection of people under 18 from the death penalty in the 2005 case should be extended to Gendron and others like him.

“Research shows that people in this age group bear a strong resemblance to juveniles under 18 when it comes to their decision-making and behavioral abilities,” they wrote.