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Buffalo mass shooting suspect arraigned on 25-count indictment, faces life without parole if found guilty

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Posted at 2:13 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 19:41:33-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP - Modified) — A grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday against Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old man accused of fatally shooting 10 people at Tops on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo.

The suspect, who has been in custody since the May 14 shooting, was arraigned on a 25-count grand jury indictment in Erie County Court Thursday before Justice Susan Eagan.

The suspect appeared in handcuffs and an orange prison suit. The only words he spoke were "Yes, your honor," when Judge Eagn asked him if he understand his right to be present at his court proceedings.

7 News obtained a copy of the indictment which includes a domestic act of terrorism charge and 24 other charges:

  • Domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree
  • 10 counts of murder in the first degree
  • 10 counts of murder in the second degree, as a hate crime
  • Three counts of attempted murder in the second degree, as a hate crime
  • Criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, an armed felony

The defense attorney entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the defendant as a number of family members sat in the courtroom to watch.

The judge denied bail for the suspect.

"There is overwhelming proof of the defendant's guilt," Assistant District Attorney John Fereleto said. "The defendant was caught at the scene of the crime with the weapon in his hands.

No cameras were allowed inside the courtroom. One woman, a family member, stood up as the defendant was escorted by into the court to get a good look at him, but she was told to be seated.

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Erie County District Attorney John Flynn discusses indictment.

The district attorney's office said this is the first case in New York State where a grand jury has indicted a defendant under the domestic act of terrorism motivated by a hate charge.

"It is the first time in the history of New York State that this Domestic Terrorism charge motivated by Hate in the first degree has been filed,” declared John Flynn, Erie County District Attorney. "That charge only has one sentence, if in fact the defendant is found guilty of that charge and that is life without parole."

Flynn outlined the charges at a news conference on the steps of the Erie County Courthouse Thursday following the arraignment.

"I chose to charge ten separate counts to list y name — the ten victims — because they deserve to be listed by name and he needs to be held accountable for all ten — that is why I chose to file ten separate counts of murder in the first degree," Flynn noted.

Flynn explained that the weapons charge was due to the alleged modification of the weapon.

"The weapon itself was purchased legally, but it was the alleged modification of the weapon that resulted in that charge.

7 News Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley asked Flynn if he knew if they can run parallel.

"I have no idea even if federal charges will be filed. I’m not in that loop at all," Flynn replied.

But Flynn did explain that trials could run at the same time if the suspect faces federal charges.

"There can be a state trial track and a federal trial track that goes at the same time and neither one would impact the other
charges would be filed," Flynn explained.

The district attorney was also asked if he thinks the trial would be moved out of the region. Flynn said he would fight any request by the defense to move the trial "tooth and nail."

"This trial needs to be tried here in Erie County — this happened in our community, and any attempt to move it out of here — I would view very unfavorable for a number of reasons," remarked Flynn.

Flynn saying Thursday will be the last time he will be commenting on the case. The defense had issued an earlier gag order, but Flynn says he made an agreement with the judge and the defense to only speak to only to outline the charges.

"I gave the judge my word. My word is golden," Flynn stated.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also appeared at the news conference saying the “wheels of justice are turning very swiftly”.

The suspect is scheduled to return on July 7 at 2 p.m. for further proceedings and continues to remain held without bail. If convicted of the domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate charge, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

A family member left the courtroom crying after saying at the end of the proceeding the suspect shot her sister.

The suspect had previously been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting, which also injured three people. He has pleaded not guilty. He allegedly detailed his plans and his racist motivation in hundreds of pages of writings he posted online shortly before the shooting. The attack was live-streamed from a helmet-mounted camera.

He drove about three hours from his home in Conklin, New York, intending to kill as many Black people as possible, investigators have said.