The gunman accused of murdering ten people at a Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo appeared in Federal Court Monday.
Once again, 19-year-old Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York entered a “not guilty” plea during his arraignment on a 27-count federal indictment for the May 14 attack.
Late last week the U.S Attorney’s Office announced a federal grand jury has indicted the Buffalo mass shooting suspect on federal hate crime and firearm charges.
The white gunman was accused of killing ten people in what investigates say was a racist attack.
Gendron entered the federal courtroom before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Schroeder wearing an orange prison shirt and pants and handcuffed in shackles.
The first two rows in the courtroom were filled with family members of the victims.
“It’s hard to be in that courtroom with a terrorist,” remarked Zeneta Everhart, mother of a survivor.
Everhart says it doesn't get any easier each time the white gunman, who investigators say targeted Buffalo's Black community, appears in court.
Victims' family members filled the first two rows of the courtroom, including Everhart who was there on behalf of her son Zaire Goodman who was injured.
Gendron’s plea was entered by his public defender, who also stated she hope “to resolve” the indictment without a trial.
The defense waived a reading of the indictment.
Gendron did not speak during the arraignment. He looked ahead for most of the proceeding and down a few times.
The 27-count indictment charges the suspect with 14 violations under the hate crime act and 13 firearms offenses in connection to the mass shooting in Buffalo.
I asked Everhart about the suspect's not guilty plea.
“I get the law. I get the tactics and you know who this is going to play out as far as the defense goes — I get it, but for me — he's guilty. We all know he's guilty. We saw what he did — the world saw what he did. He posted what he did, so to me he's guilty before even a trial,” answered Everhart.
There was no discussion on when a decision could be made about the death penalty. There is no death penalty in New York State, but the federal hate crime charges make this case eligible.
I spoke with two legal experts, retired State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang and former U.S. Western District and former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco.
Both say U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will make the final decision.
"I’m not surprised that there has not yet been a decision whether to seek the death penalty or not. It’s not necessary at this point and time, but I fully expect that the deliberation has already commenced and is ongoing." Vacco explained. “One of the considerations here is that Attorney General Garland has imposed a moratorium on the implementation of the federal death penalty, so part of the analyst happening — is whether or not the facts and circumstances of this case in Buffalo are compelling enough to lift that hurdle.”
“The government is just going to take its time on this because it's a big decision and yes, the moratorium is probably coming into consideration they're probably thinking we don't know how long it's going to be in effect or if it will be in effect a year from now or a couple of years from now,” replied Wolfgang. “But they don’t have to make this decision until right before the trial. It involves picking a separate jury. It involves different elements of proof.”
Wolfgang says he is expected to be tried state first before the federal case.
“They might actually talk to him again about saying we will take the death penalty off the table if you take a plea, that is just common procedure in these cases — so we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wolfgang remarked.
I also asked Vacco how long he believes it might take for trials to begin. He noted the defense team in the state case has already asked for more time to evaluate a possible insanity defense.
“The case isn’t going to get fired up until at least October,” replied Vacco. “It’s possible on the state side you will see some type, even trial perhaps this time next year mid to late summer of next year.”
Vacco said as a former state and federal prosecutor, he feels “justice delayed is justice denied” and is concerned about the families of the victims murdered at the Tops shooting and those who survived.
The case isn’t going to get fired up until at least October.
The judge is giving prosecutors 45-days to review what both the judge and prosecutors called a “voluminous amount” of electronic evidence and search warrants in this case.
Prosecutors are asked to return with the defense discovery by September 2. The defense requested 90-days to review the evidence.
The judge has set a status conference to be held on December 9 at 10:30 a.m.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the indictment charges that the suspect "violated the Shepard-Byrd act by willfully causing the death of the victims because of their actual and perceived race and color."
In addition, the u.s. attorney's office said the 12-page indictment charges the suspect with:
- 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death
- Three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill three injured individuals
- One hate crimes count alleging he attempted to kill additional black people in and around the tops grocery store
- 13 counts of using, carrying, or discharging a firearm in relation to the hate crimes, and seeks forfeiture of items, including the weapon used in the shooting