Buffalo gunman pleads guilty in racist attack that left 10 dead
By Hurubie Meko and Dan Higgins
The gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May pleaded guilty to state charges against him in Erie County Court on Monday morning.
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 simply replied “guilty” or “yes.”
After the hearing, John J. Flynn, the Erie County district attorney, said that the terrorism charge was relatively new to the state’s penal code and had not been used before, adding that the gunman was the first person to have pleaded guilty in New York to domestic terrorism motivated by hate.
The gunman still faces federal hate crimes and weapons violations, and some of those charges could carry the death penalty if the Justice Department decides to seek it. Although there is now a moratorium on federal executions, Attorney General Merrick Garland did not rule out the possibility of seeking the death penalty when he announced the charges in June.
Because of a legal technicality in the state charges, Flynn said, the gunman pleaded guilty to the highest counts, including the 10 counts of first-degree murder. Those 10 counts automatically dismissed the lesser 10 second-degree charges.
He also pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder in the second degree as a hate crime and one count of criminal possession of a weapon as well as the domestic terrorism motivated by hate charge.
During the news conference, Flynn read a statement recounting how the shooting unfolded, outside and inside of the supermarket, emphasizing how most victims were selected because they were Black.
The 13 people who were shot, three of whom survived, were almost all Black.
The first person the gunman encountered outside of the store was Roberta A. Drury, 32, Flynn said.
“He immediately intentionally shot and killed Roberta Drury who was walking in the parking lot,” Flynn said, referring to the gunman. “That defendant did this because Roberta Drury was African American.”
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 messaging site Discord. In May, Gendron, who was 18 at the time, traveled about 200 miles to East Buffalo from his home in the Southern Tier town of Conklin, New York, to carry out the attack.
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.
According to authorities, Gendron, who livestreamed the attack and was arrested shortly afterward, used a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that was purchased legally at a store near his hometown and wore camouflage and body armor.
In the aftermath of the Buffalo attack, and the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers in Albany, New York, passed a broad package of gun bills that raised the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle to 21 and banned most civilians from purchasing bullet-resistant body vests.
“It was clear that this act of pure evil, premeditated, pure evil, that this individual knew what they were doing,” said Buffalo’s mayor, Byron Brown, at the news conference Monday.