The Buffalo Tops shooting suspect pleads guilty to state murder charges

Payton Gendron is led out of the courtroom after a hearing in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 19. Gendron faces charges in the May 14 fatal shooting at a supermarket.
Payton Gendron is led out of the courtroom after a hearing in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 19. Gendron faces charges in the May 14 fatal shooting at a supermarket.
Matt Rourke/AP

Updated Nov. 28, 11:39 a.m. ET

The 19-year-old white gunman accused of targeting and killing 10 Black people and injuring three others at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store last May pleaded guilty Monday to state charges against him.

Payton Gendron was charged on the state level with one count of domestic terrorism in the first degree, 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted second-degree murder as a hate crime and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

He pleaded guilty to 15 counts, including the 10 counts of first-degree murder, which automatically dismissed the remaining 10 second-degree charges.

"The evidence of the defendant's guilt is overwhelming ... This case is a poster child for swift justice," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn in a press conference following the hearing.

"This racist murderer did not accomplish what he set out to do. Because today, this community is stronger and better than it ever was. ... Love always conquers hate."

Gain a Better Understanding of Today

MPR News is not just a listener supported source of information, it's a resource where listeners are supported. We take you beyond the headlines to the world we share in Minnesota. Become a sustainer today to fuel MPR News all year long.

Sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 15, but Flynn said Erie County Judge Susan Egan will be required to sentence Gendron to life without parole, New York's highest sentence, for pleading guilty to the first-degree domestic terrorism charge.

Flynn also said that Gendron was the first person in the history of New York state to be found guilty of that charge.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said it was "emotional" to be among those in the courtroom hearing the pleas.

"It is important for this community to hear how these precious lives were snatched from us for no other reason than the color of their skin," Brown said.

He also called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, citing the number of mass shootings nationwide since May. Just last week another shooter opened fire at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., killing six.

At the federal level, Gendron is facing additional charges, including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, along with 13 counts of using, carrying or discharging a firearm.

If convicted on all 27 federal charges, Gendron could face either the death penalty or a second sentence of life in prison without parole. The attorney general will decide at a later date on whether to seek the death penalty, according to the Justice Department.

A memorial for the supermarket shooting victims outside the Tops Friendly Market in July.
A memorial for the supermarket shooting victims outside the Tops Friendly Market in July.
Joshua Bessex/AP

"The Justice Department fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a July news release.

"We will continue to be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support the communities terrorized by them, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them," he added.

News of the gunman's guilty plea comes after he chose not to pursue a psychiatric defense last month in his state case.

Gendron was scheduled to make an appearance in court last month, but according to The Buffalo News, the Erie County District Attorney's Office announced that his case had been adjourned until Jan. 12, 2023 — citing a request by the defense to "review discovery material."

The deadline for the attorneys representing Gendron to file a notice of pursuing a psychiatric defense was set for Oct. 6, according to a report by The Buffalo News.

In an emailed statement to NPR, a spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System said the defense "neither filed a notice nor requested an extension to do so."

The spokesperson, however, did not comment on whether the defense team would request a reopening of a psychiatric defense.

In July, Gendron was indicted by a federal grand jury on hate crimes and firearm charges, according to the Justice Department. He has been held without bail since his arrest after the May 14 shooting.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.