The gunman accused of killing 10 people and wounding three in May at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, pleaded guilty Monday to state charges of domestic terrorism as a hate crime, murder and attempted murder.
Payton Gendron, a 19-year-old White man, pleaded guilty to one count of domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate, 10 counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and a weapons possession charge. The charges come with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.
He only spoke in court to answer yes when asked if he understood the charges, and to plead guilty. He also spoke to answer questions about his education.
The guilty plea ensures there will be no state trial and Gendron will not appeal, defense attorney Brian Parker said.
“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions on May 14. Before he is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on February 15, the surviving victims and deceased victims’ family members will all have a chance to address the court, the community and our client directly,” he said. “It is our hope that a final resolution of the state charges will help in some small way to keep the focus on the needs of the victims and the community.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn described the attack as a racist hate crime and outlined the timeline of the mass killing.
“In just over two minutes the defendant, with the intent to murder as many African Americans as he could, killed 10 innocent Black people and attempted to kill three others,” Flynn said in a news conference after the hearing.
The hearing was postponed for a week due to a snowstorm in the Buffalo area.
Investigators believe Gendron targeted the victims, ages 20-86, based on race. Authorities have said he traveled from hours away to carry out the attack on May 14 at the Tops Friendly Markets, which is in a predominantly Black community. Eleven of the 13 people shot were Black and two were White, officials said.
When reached by CNN earlier this month, the suspect’s attorney, Dan DuBois, was not permitted to comment because of a gag order in the case, he said. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, is also under a gag order and declined to comment at the time.
“This is a remarkable group of families that I speak for,” Terrence Connors, who represents the families of seven people who were killed in the shooting and two who were injured, said when announcing the suspect’s plan to plead guilty. “The tragedy is still heavy in their hearts, but they’ve turned this nightmare into positive action. From their standpoint, he has become irrelevant to their lives. Their lives have become about making something positive from this horrible tragedy.”
The suspect also faces multiple federal hate crime charges, which carry the potential for the death penalty, in addition to several firearms charges.
Federal prosecutors argue the alleged gunman’s motive was to “prevent Black people from replacing white people and eliminating the white race, and to inspire others to commit similar attacks,” according to a criminal complaint.
Gendron has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said following the attack that the AR-15 style rifle used in the shooting was legally purchased in New York State, but was modified with a high-capacity magazine, which is not legal in the state.