The shooter who killed 10 people and three injured in May during a racist attack at a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, pleaded guilty on Monday to domestic terrorism charges as a hate crime, murder and attempted murder.
Payton Gendron, a 19-year-old white man, pleaded guilty to one count of hate-motivated domestic terrorism, 10 counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of weapons in the mass shooting at Tops Friendly Markets on May 14. The charges carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gendron wore a red jumpsuit and had his hands cuffed in front of him in court on Monday. He answered “yes” or “no” to several questions saying he understood why he was pleading guilty and, on the individual counts, said the word “guilty”. He showed no emotion during the hearing.
The guilty plea ensures there will be no state trial and Gendron will not appeal, defense attorney Brian Parker said later.
“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions on May 14. Before he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on February 15, the surviving victims and family members of the deceased victims will all have a chance to speak directly to the court, to the community and to our client,” he said. “We hope that a final resolution of the charges against the state will help, to some extent extent, to maintain focus on the needs of victims and the community.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn described the attack as a racist hate crime and described the timeline of the massacre.
“In just over two minutes, the defendant, intent on murdering as many African Americans as he could, killed 10 innocent black people and attempted to kill three others,” said Flynn at a press conference after the hearing.
The guilty plea comes six months after Gendron used an illegally modified semi-automatic rifle to carry out the mass shooting. Flynn said he received a letter from the defense a few weeks ago saying the defendant was ready to plead guilty.
The victims, including customers, employees and an armed security guard, ranged in age from 20 to 86. Eleven of the 13 people shot were black and two were white, officials said.
Social media posts and a lengthy document written by the gunman reveal he had been planning his attack for months and had visited Tops supermarket several times before. He posted that he chose Tops because it was in a particular zip code in Buffalo that had the highest percentage of blacks fairly close to where he lived in Conklin, New York.
The document outlined his goals for the attack, according to Flynn: “To kill as many African Americans as possible, avoid death, and spread ideals.”
Gendron also faces multiple federal hate crime charges, which carry the death penalty, in addition to several firearms charges. He pleaded not guilty federal charges.
Flynn in court on Monday laid out the evidence against Gendron, which was primarily based on Tops supermarket surveillance video and a camera attached to Gendron’s helmet that broadcast the attack live.
Gendron arrived at the grocery store with a modified semi-automatic rifle and targeted people for being black, Flynn said. At one point Gendron pointed his gun at a white man but did not kill him and said “sorry” because the man was white, “thus further demonstrating the accused’s racially motivated attack” , Flynn said.
Gendron shot four people outside the grocery store and nine others inside before surrendering to Buffalo police officers who responded to the scene, according to the indictment.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said following the attack that the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting was purchased legally in New York State, but has been modified with a high-capacity magazine, which is not legal in the state.
The state charge of hate-motivated terrorism, passed in 2020, had never before been used in New York.
“No individual in the history of New York State has been convicted of a charge of hate-motivated domestic terrorism until today,” he said.
He argued that the shooter failed to achieve his objectives.
“This racist murderer did not accomplish what he set out to accomplish. He failed. He failed miserably because today this city, this community, is stronger and better than it was. ever was, and we showed the world that racism has no place in our community.
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Several families of the victims spoke out alongside attorney Ben Crump on Monday and took issue with what they described as the justice system’s overly sympathetic treatment of the shooter.
“I was angry at the way the judge constantly talked to this (suspect) like he was a little prepubescent sixth-grade boy,” said Mark Talley, 33, on son of Geraldine Talley. “I was angry that they didn’t make him look at the faces of the families of the victims he scarred for life.”
Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was shot in the neck but survived, said the gunman’s voice in court was “nonchalant”.
“His voice made me sick,” she said. “This country is inherently violent. It’s inherently racist, and his voice showed it to me because he didn’t care. You could hear it in that voice. He didn’t care.
Crump said Gendron — despite his expected life sentence — seemed to have achieved his goals: kill as many black people as possible, survive and gain mass attention for his 180-page document.
“While I know this is a step in the right direction on our journey to justice, it is still very painful that the goals he set for himself he seems to be achieving,” he said. .
Terrence Connors, who represents the families of seven people killed in the shooting and two injured, previously spoke to CNN about the suspect’s plan to plead guilty.
“It’s a remarkable group of families that I speak on behalf of,” he said. “The tragedy is still heavy in their hearts, but they have turned this nightmare into positive action. From their perspective, it has become irrelevant to their lives. Their life has become a matter of getting something positive out of this horrific tragedy. »