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Buffalo gunman pleads guilty in racist attack that left 10 dead

On Monday, the racist gunman, Payton Gendron, 19, who killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket in May, pleaded guilty to state charges. Mark Talley, son of Tops shooting victim Geraldine Talley, listened as Erie County District Attorney John Flynn read the victims' names during a press conference at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y.Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

The gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist massacre at a Buffalo supermarket in May pleaded guilty to state charges against him in Erie County Court on Monday.

The gunman, Payton Gendron, 19, was indicted by a grand jury in June on 25 counts, including murder and a single count of domestic terrorism motivated by hate, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment without parole.

Inside the packed courtroom, Gendron was handcuffed and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit. As Judge Susan Eagan read each count to him, he stood expressionless and simply replied, “guilty” or “yes.”

Zeneta Everhart, whose son was injured in the attack and who was in court Monday, said the gunman acted like he was “just a robot.”

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In a larger overflow courtroom where the proceedings were simulcast on large television screens, a woman wearing a Tops uniform wept as prosecutors read a narrative account of the indictment.

After the hearing, John J. Flynn, the Erie County district attorney, said in a news conference, “Justice has been done today.”

But “I can never provide full closure,” he said, adding, “Hopefully the legal closure will help the healing process.”

Because of a legal technicality in the state charges, Flynn noted, the gunman pleaded guilty to the 15 highest counts out of the 25, including the 10 counts of first-degree murder. Those 10 counts automatically dismissed the lesser 10 second-degree charges.

The gunman also pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, one count of criminal possession of a weapon, as well as the domestic terrorism motivated by hate charge.

The terrorism charge is relatively new to the state’s penal code and had not been used before, Flynn said, adding that the gunman was the first person to have pleaded guilty in New York to domestic terrorism motivated by hate.

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The gunman still faces federal hate crimes and weapons violations. On Monday, a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office for the Western District of New York said only that the federal charges “remain pending.”

Some of the federal charges could carry the death penalty if the Justice Department decides to seek it. Although Attorney General Merrick Garland established a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, he did not rule out the possibility of seeking the death penalty when he announced the charges in June.

Since Garland assumed the attorney general’s post in March 2021, he has not authorized local US attorneys around the country to seek the death penalty in any new cases, the Justice Department said.

Terry Connors, an attorney who represents the families along with the prominent civil-rights attorney Ben Crump and others, said Monday that he was approached by the gunman’s defense team nearly three weeks ago about pleading guilty to the state indictment.

“They felt as though that was one way in which they might be able to mitigate with respect to the death penalty in the federal system,” Connors said at a separate news conference in the afternoon.

During the earlier news conference, Flynn read a statement that was read in court recounting how the shooting unfolded, outside and inside the supermarket, emphasizing how the victims were selected because they were Black.

The first person the gunman encountered outside the store was Roberta A. Drury, 32, Flynn said.

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“He immediately intentionally shot and killed Roberta Drury, who was walking in the parking lot,” Flynn said, referring to the gunman. “The defendant did this because Roberta Drury was African American.”

The 13 people who were shot, three of whom survived, were almost all Black.

Flynn also described how when the gunman encountered Christopher Braden — the store’s manager, who was shot and injured — he apologized instead of shooting him again.

“He did this because Christopher Braden was white,” Flynn said.

In a news conference with victims’ relatives on Monday afternoon, Everhart said the evidence read in the courtroom was the first time she had heard many of the details about that day. Even though she has done many news interviews, she said, she has avoided listening to or reading coverage of the massacre.

She described the gunman’s demeanor in court as “nonchalant,” and said that the way he had been portrayed in the media and dealt with by law enforcement since the massacre showed that young, white men who commit mass shootings “tend to have the support of a community who think that what they did is OK.”

“This country is inherently violent, it is racist and his voice showed that to me,” she said, “because he didn’t care.”

Mark Talley, who lost his mother, Geraldine, in the massacre, said he felt “a lot of anger,” in court Monday, an emotion he said he did not feel he could often express as a Black man.

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“I was angry how the judge was constantly talking to this gentleman like he was a little prepubescent, sixth-grade boy,” Talley said. “I was angry that he didn’t have to look at the faces of the families of the victims that he ruined and scarred for life.”

Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth, was killed, said white supremacy was a cancer in this country that needed to be cut out.

“None of these people deserve this,” he said. “But here we are begging, literally begging, for those who are in power to do something about it.”

Months before the massacre, the gunman, an avowed white supremacist, began writing about his plans for an attack in Buffalo in a private diary on the messaging site Discord. In May, Gendron, who was 18 at the time, traveled about 200 miles to East Buffalo from his home in Conklin, New York, to carry out the attack.

The gunman visited Tops Friendly Market, in Buffalo’s Masten Park neighborhood, at least twice before the attack for reconnaissance in March, Flynn said.

In the abundant online writings he left behind, the gunman said he had chosen that area of Buffalo for its large population of Black residents.