BUFFALO, N.Y. >> The white gunman who massacred 10 Black shoppers and workers at a Buffalo supermarket pleaded guilty today to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges, guaranteeing that he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Payton Gendron, 19, entered the plea today in a courthouse roughly two miles from the grocery store where he used a semiautomatic rifle and body armor to carry out a racist assault he hoped would help preserve white power in the U.S.
He pleaded guilty to all the charges in the grand jury indictment, including murder, murder as a hate crime and hate-motivated domestic terrorism, which carries an automatic sentence of life without parole. Gendron also pleaded guilty to wounding three people who survived the May attack.
Gendron, who was handcuffed and wore an orange jumpsuit, showed little emotion through the 45-minute proceeding, just occasionally licking and clenching his lips. He answered “yes” and “guilty” as the judge referred to each victim by name and asked whether he killed each victim because of their race.
Immediate relatives of the victims were joined by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and the police commissioner in the gallery. Many of the relatives appeared to be crying, dabbing their eyes and sniffling. The judge urged calm as the proceedings began. “I understand this is a momentous and tremendously emotional event,” Judge Susan Eagan said.
“Swift justice,” is how Erie County District Attorney John Flynn described the result, noting that it’s the first time anyone in the state of New York has been convicted of the hate-motivated terrorism charge.
Flynn said the crimes were proven beyond a doubt through surveillance video and Gendron’s own helmet camera, which produced images he streamed live during the shootings, as well as his own writings and statements, Flynn said. “Their screams of fear and confusion are heard on the defendant’s camera.”
Every victim was targeted because of their race, Flynn said, noting that Gendron spared and even apologized to a white person during the attack. He modified a rifle into an illegal assault weapon so that he could kill as many African Americans, in as short a period of time, as he could, Flynn said.
“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fueled his horrific actions on May 14,” said Gendron’s lawyer, Brian Parker. “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.”
The plea comes at a time when many Americans have become nearly desensitized to mass shootings. In recent weeks, there have been deadly attacks at a Walmart in Virginia, at a gay club in Colorado and at the University of Virginia.
Just days after Gendron’s rampage in Buffalo, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
Gendron previously pleaded not guilty to separate federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence if he is convicted. The U.S. Justice Department has not said whether it will seek capital punishment.
Gendron wore body armor and used a legally purchased AR-15 style rifle in his attack on the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo. Those killed ranged in age from 32 to 86 and included an armed security guard died trying to protect customers, a church deacon and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner.
White supremacy was Gendron’s motive. He said in documents posted online just before the attack that he’d picked the store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
He said he was motivated by a belief in a massive conspiracy to dilute the power of white people by “replacing” them in the U.S. with people of color.
Gendron surrendered after police confronted him as he emerged from the store.
Relatives of the victims have since called on Congress to address white supremacy and gun violence through legislation.