The gunman who killed 10 people and injured three in May in a racist attack on a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, pleaded guilty Monday to domestic terrorism charges including a hate crime, murder and attempted murder.
Payton Gendron, a 19-year-old white man, pleaded guilty to one count of domestic terrorist act motivated by hate, 10 counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and gun possession in the Tops Friendly Markets mass shooting on May 14. The charges carry a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Gendron wore a red jumpsuit and had his hands handcuffed in front of him in court on Monday. He answered “yes” or “no” to several questions, confirming that he understood why he pleaded guilty and, on individual counts, said the word “guilty”. During the hearing, he showed no emotion.
The plea of guilt ensures that there will be no state trial and that Gendron will not appeal, attorney Brian Parker said afterwards.
“This crucial step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions on May 14. Before he is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on February 15, the surviving victims and the relatives of the deceased victims will all have the opportunity to address directly the court, the community and our client,” he said. “We hope that a final resolution of the state’s charges will help in some small way to keep the focus on the needs of the victims and the community.”
Gendron’s parents said they remain shocked and devastated by the shooting.
“Our hearts are broken by the devastation he has wrought on the innocent victims he has killed and injured, their families and the African American community in Buffalo and beyond,” Paul and Pamela Gendron said in a statement. “With today’s IOU, he will be held accountable for his actions.”
“We are grateful to the law enforcement professionals who investigated this matter and will continue to provide all possible assistance. We pray for healing for all affected.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn described the attack as a racist hate crime and outlined the timeline of the mass murder.
“In just over two minutes, with the intent to kill as many African Americans as possible, the defendant murdered 10 innocent black people and attempted to kill three others,” Flynn said at a news 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 stating that the defendant was willing to plead guilty.
The victims, including customers, employees and an armed guard, ranged in age from 20 to 86. Eleven of the 13 people shot were black and two white, officials said.
Social media posts and a lengthy document written by the gunman reveal that he had been planning his attack for months and had already visited the Tops supermarket several times. He posted that he chose Tops because it was in a particular Buffalo zip code with the highest percentage of black people that was close enough 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, prevent them from dying, and spread ideals.”
Gendron also faces multiple federal hate crime charges, potentially carrying the death penalty, in addition to several gun charges. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges.
Flynn laid out the evidence against Gendron out of court on Monday, which was based primarily on surveillance video from the Tops supermarket and from a camera attached to Gendron’s helmet that live-streamed the attack.
Gendron arrived at the grocery store with a modified semi-automatic rifle and targeted people for being black, Flynn said. At one point, Gendron aimed his rifle at a white man but did not kill him and said “sorry” because the man was white, “further demonstrating the defendant’s racially motivated attack,” Flynn said.
According to the indictment, Gendron shot four people outside the supermarket and nine others inside before surrendering to Buffalo police officers who responded at the scene.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said after the attack that the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting was legally purchased in New York State but modified with a high-capacity magazine, which was not is legal in the state.
The state indictment of terrorism motivated by hate, passed in 2020, had never before been used in New York.
“No one in the history of New York State has been found guilty of hate-motivated domestic terrorism charges to date,” he said.
He argued that the shooter failed to reach his targets.
“This racist killer did not fulfill what he set out to achieve. He failed. He failed miserably because this city, this community is stronger and better today than ever before, and we showed the world that racism has no place in our community.”
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Several of the victims’ families spoke to attorney Ben Crump on Monday and disagreed with what they described as the justice system’s overly sympathetic treatment of the shooter.
“I was angry that the judge was constantly talking to this (defendant) as if he were a little sixth grade prepubescent boy,” said Mark Talley, 33, the son of Geraldine Talley. “I was angry that they wouldn’t let him look at the faces of the families of the victims he had scarred for life.”
Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was shot in the neck but survived, said the gunman’s voice sounded “casual” in court.
“His voice made me feel sick,” she said. “This country is inherently violent. It’s inherently racist, and his voice showed me that because he couldn’t care less. You heard 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 in our journey towards justice, it is still very painful that he seems to be achieving the goals he set himself,” he said.
Terrence Connors, who represents the families of seven people killed in the shooting and two injured, previously spoke to DailyExpertNews about the suspect’s plan to plead guilty.
“This is a remarkable group of families that I speak for,” he said. “The tragedy is still heavy in their hearts, but they have turned this nightmare into positive action. From their point of view, he has become irrelevant to their lives. Their lives have become to make something positive out of this terrible tragedy.”