Accused in Buffalo, N.Y., mass shooting indicted on terrorism, 1st-degree murder charges
10 Black people were killed in May 14 shooting at supermarket
The white man accused of killing 10 Black people in a racist attack on a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on a state domestic terrorism and hate crime charge that would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Payton Gendron is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on the new 25-count indictment, which builds on a previous murder charge hastily prepared in the hours after the May 14 shooting.
The 18-year-old has now also been charged with the attempted murders of three people who were shot during the attack, but survived, and with using a weapon while committing a felony.
He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had told a judge on May 20 the grand jury had voted to indict Gendron but did not disclose charges, saying the proceedings were ongoing.
Gendron's attorney, Brian Parker, said he had not seen the indictment and could not comment, adding that prosecution and defence attorneys have been barred by a judge from discussing the case publicly.
The horrific nature of the crime and number of victims were already likely to guarantee a life sentence if Gendron is convicted. New York has no death penalty. But adding a state terrorism charge could carry additional emotional resonance and help authorities send a message about violent extremism.
That charge — for domestic acts of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree — accuses Gendron of killing "because of the perceived race and/or colour" of his victims.
"This man was motivated by hate against people he never met for no reason other than the colour of their skin," said Buffalo lawyer John Elmore, who represents the families of victims Katherine "Kat" Massey, 72, and Andre Mackniel, 53. Elmore said he hoped for a conviction on every count.
Law took effect in 2020
Former New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the domestic terrorism hate crime law in August 2019, in the wake of a mass shooting targeting Mexicans at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. The measure, dubbed the "Josef Neumann Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act" after an attack at a rabbi's home in Munsey, N.Y., was signed into law on April 3, 2020, and took effect on Nov. 1, 2020.
The law expanded on a previous domestic terrorism statute passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that was largely envisioned as a way to go after international extremism.
Prosecutors said Gendron drove for about three hours to Buffalo from his home in Conklin, N.Y., intending to kill as many Black people as possible. Shortly before the attack he allegedly posted documents that outlined his white supremacist views and revealed he had been planning the attack for months.
The gunman, carrying a recently purchased AR-15-style rifle, opened fire on Saturday afternoon shoppers at a Tops supermarket.
Murder charges were filed for each of the victims, who ranged in age from 32 to 86 and included eight shoppers, the store security guard and a church deacon who drove shoppers to and from the store with their groceries.
The shooting, followed 10 days later by a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers inside a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, has renewed a national debate about gun control.
Attack was live streamed
Mackniel was in the store at the time of the shooting to buy a birthday cake for his three-year-old. Massey was a community activist who had championed gun control and fought against racism, Elmore said.
"To have her life taken away by a white supremacist extremist … is extremely upsetting to me," he said. He is part of a team of attorneys exploring potential legal action against the manufacturers of the weapon and body armour used by the gunman, as well as social media platforms.
The attack was live streamed from a helmet-mounted camera.
"Somehow we're going to find justice for the Massey family, for the Mackniel family and all those others that were affected by this tragedy," Elmore said.
Amanda Drury, who lost her 32-year-old sister, Roberta Drury, said she is leaving it to the legal system to say what charges are appropriate in the case.
"I'm going to continue with my trust in the justice system," she said.