Buffalo shooting suspect appears in federal court as attorney general considers death penalty

The white gunman accused of killing 10 black people in a racist shooting at a Buffalo supermarket pleaded not guilty on Monday to federal hate crime charges that could carry the death penalty. Payton Gendron was indicted last week for hate crimes and weapons.

The plea was entered in court by the defendant’s attorney, who said he hoped to resolve the case before trial. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, the accused remained silent during the brief arraignment.

The 27-count federal indictment contains special findings, including that the defendant engaged in substantial planning to commit an act of terrorism and targeted vulnerable seniors – specifically Ruth Whitfield, 86 years old, Pearl Young, 77 years old, 72 years old. – Katherine Massey, 67, Heyward Patterson, 67, and Celestine Chaney, 65.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who halted federal executions last year, has not ruled out seeking the death penalty against the defendant. Garland traveled to the scene of the massacre and visited the families of the victims last month.

The Justice Department said a decision on whether to seek the death penalty against the defendant, who turned 19 in June, would come later.

Cariol Horne, 54, places a rose on the fence outside Tops Friendly Market on July 14, 2022 in Buffalo, NY
Cariol Horne, 54, places a rose on the fence outside Tops Friendly Market on July 14, 2022 in Buffalo, NY

Joshua Bessex/AP

The accused, who broadcast the May 14 attack live, was arrested just outside the entrance to the Tops Friendly supermarket after he put on a bulletproof vest and opened fire on weekend shoppers and employees in the parking lot and inside, authorities said. Three people were injured.

“We all know he is guilty. We saw what he did,” Zeneta Everhart said after the court proceedings. His son, Zaire Goodman, was injured in the attack. “The world saw what he did. He posted what he did.”

The shop reopened to the public last week, two months after the attack.

Investigators say the alleged shooter drove for more than three hours from his home in Conklin, New York, to a busy grocery store chosen for its location in a predominantly black neighborhood, intending to kill as many black people as possible. He was motivated, they said, by white supremacist beliefs he described in online journal entries.

The 19-year-old wrote as early as November about staging a live attack, practiced shooting from his car and scouted the store two months before he allegedly carried out the plans, the writings say .

He arrived at the store dressed in camouflage clothing and a tactical-style helmet fitted with a video camera, authorities said.

The indictment calls for the confiscation of a vast arsenal recovered from the defendant’s car and home. It includes the Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic shotgun used in the shooting and a loaded 12 gauge shotgun and a loaded bolt action rifle and ammo taken from the car. Authorities seized additional ammunition and firearm accessories from his home.

The federal indictment charges the defendant with 10 counts of hate crimes involving death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill three people and another hate crime count alleging he attempted to kill other black people in and around the store. It also includes 13 counts of using a firearm in a hate crime.

The defendant also faces a parallel Public minister for charges of hate-motivated domestic terrorism, murder and attempted murder as a hate crime. The domestic terrorism hate crime charge automatically carries a life sentence. He also pleaded not guilty to those charges.

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