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Buffalo Tops Shooter Pleads Guilty to All Counts, Including Debut Charges Under New York’s Domestic Terrorism Motivated by Hate Law

Payton Gendron appeared before a New York State judge at the Erie County Courthouse on May 19, 2022 in Buffalo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.)

Payton Gendron appeared before a New York State judge at the Erie County Courthouse on May 19, 2022 in Buffalo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.)

The white mass shooter who killed 10 Black men and women at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, pleaded guilty to all of the 25 charges leveled at him by local prosecutors, including the first under the state’s law aimed at domestic terrorism motivated by hate.

On May 14, 2022, Payton S. Gendron was 18 years old when he brought a Bushmaster XM rifle into Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo and opened fire, live-streaming the massacre on his GoPro camera and disseminating a racist screed before the attack. The note and choice of targets left little doubt that the crime was racially motivated.

In his state indictment, 20 of the charges against Gendron are counts of first- and second degree murder for each of the people he left dead. The now-convicted domestic terrorist wounded another Black person and two white bystanders — saying “sorry” to one of the latter, according to an FBI affidavit.

He now stands convicted of attempted murder as a hate crime for each of the people he injured. The remaining two counts were for domestic terrorism and a weapons charge.

The three Black people whom Gendron murdered in front of Tops were Roberta Drury, Pearl Young, and Heyward Patterson. The seven others slain inside the store were Ruth Whitfield, Celestine Chaney, Aaron W. Salter, Jr., Andre Mackniel, Margus Morrison, Katherine Massey, and Geraldine Talley.

Gendron still faces a 27-count federal indictment, 10 of which are hate crimes resulting in death.

Of particular significance in the state case is the resolution of the debut charges under New York’s Josef Neumann Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act, which went into effect two years ago in November 2020. The law was proposed in response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and named after a rabbi murdered during an antisemitic machete on the first night of Hanukkah.

Under the statute, the only potential sentence for Gendron is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The New York Court of Appeals ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004.

The Justice Department’s charges, on the other hand, are death penalty-eligible. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who expressed ambivalence during his Senate confirmation hearing on capital punishment, indicated that he would decide whether to seek Gendron’s death at “a later time.”

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a statement that the plea shows that violence, “especially violence motivated by hate or prejudice, will not be tolerated.”

“After selecting the City of Buffalo as the target of his planned terror attack, this defendant drove for several hours with the intent to kill innocent African American citizens as they shopped for groceries on a Saturday afternoon,” Flynn said. “I, along with the four Assistant District Attorneys who have diligently worked on this case, remain committed to obtaining justice for the victims and this community by prosecuting this defendant to the fullest extent of the law. I continue to pray for all who have been impacted by this tragedy. While we may never fully heal from the horrific crime and the loss of life that occurred on May 14th, I hope that the families of the victims and the survivors feel that justice has been served by this defendant pleading guilty today.”

In Gendron’s screed, the killer claimed to find motivation for the massacre in his belief in the so-called great replacement, a conspiracy theory that nonwhite people are being brought into the United States and other Western countries to “replace” white people.

Gendron will be sentenced on Feb. 15, 2023.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."