Three rows full of relatives of victims of the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo watched Thursday morning as accused murderer Payton Gendron appeared in a crowded federal courtroom on federal hate crime charges that could result in the death penalty if he is convicted.
Several of them glared at him. Some cried.
They comforted each other as Gendron, flanked by federal marshals, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him, had the charges explained to him by U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr.
Gendron, 19, of Conklin in Broome County, who is accused of killing 10 people and wounding three others in a racist attack, said little during the hearing, but told the judge he has not had a job in about a year and had only $16 in his bank account.
No plea was entered on his behalf.
Schroeder urged the U.S. Justice Department to try to decide quickly if it will seek the death penalty in this case, a process that often takes more than a year. He appointed public defenders to be Gendron’s lawyers and sent Gendron back to the Erie County Holding Center to await trial on federal and state charges.
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John Elmore, a Buffalo attorney representing survivors of several of the people killed in the May 14 shooting, said outside the courtroom that he thought it was unrealistic to expect the Justice Department to make a decision quickly on the death penalty.
Gendron, already indicted by an Erie County grand jury, is facing 26 federal charges: 10 counts of hate crime resulting in death; three counts of hate crime involving bodily injury and attempt to kill; 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence; and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
The charges were announced as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland came to Buffalo on Wednesday to meet with families of the victims of the Tops massacre and the survivors of the attack and to explain the path forward at the federal level.
The criminal complaint filed in federal court Wednesday lays out the federal government’s case against Gendron, starting with how he planned the attack, visiting the store on multiple occasions and then how he purposely targeted Black people inside the store, apologizing to a white worker who had been shot before continuing with his violent rampage.
“It alleges that he selected a target in this ZIP code because it has the highest percentage of Black people close enough to where he lives,” Garland said, speaking at a news conference held in the Apollo Theatre on Jefferson Avenue, two blocks from the site of the massacre.
The killer chose the Tops store because he knew there would be many Black people there shopping and working, Garland said.