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The Buffalo Tops shooting suspect pleads guilty to state murder charges

Payton Gendron (seen in orange) being is led out of the courtroom after a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 19, 2022. Gendron faces charges in the May 14, fatal shooting at a supermarket. Gendron is expected to plead guilty on Monday to state charges against him.
Matt Rourke
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AP
Payton Gendron (seen in orange) being is led out of the courtroom after a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 19, 2022. Gendron faces charges in the May 14, fatal shooting at a supermarket. Gendron is expected to plead guilty on Monday to state charges against him.

Updated November 28, 2022 at 5:38 PM ET

The 19-year-old white gunman accused of targeting and killing 10 Black people and injuring three others at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store last May pleaded guilty Monday to state charges against him.

Payton Gendron was charged on the state level with one count of domestic terrorism in the first degree, 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted second-degree murder as a hate crime and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

He pleaded guilty to 15 counts, including the 10 counts of first-degree murder, which automatically dismissed the remaining 10 second-degree charges.

"The evidence of the defendant's guilt is overwhelming ... This case is a poster child for swift justice," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn in a press conference following the hearing.

"This racist murderer did not accomplish what he set out to do. Because today, this community is stronger and better than it ever was. ... Love always conquers hate."

Gendron faces at least a life sentence without parole

Sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 15, but Flynn said Erie County Judge Susan Egan will be required to sentence Gendron to life without parole, New York's highest sentence, for pleading guilty to the first-degree domestic terrorism charge.

Flynn also said that Gendron was the first person in the history of New York state to be found guilty of that charge.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said it was "emotional" to be among those in the courtroom hearing the pleas.

"It is important for this community to hear how these precious lives were snatched from us for no other reason than the color of their skin," Brown said.

He also called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, citing the number of mass shootings nationwide since May. Just last week another shooter opened fire at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., killing six.

Families of the victims say justice still hasn't been served

Following the news of the plea, family members of the shooting victims spoke to reporters about what happened during the court hearing — expressing their feelings towards the gunman and the guilty plea.

"This young white supremacist pulled the trigger; there were a lot of other people who loaded the gun," said attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of the victims.

"We need to hold all of them accountable to prevent the next racially motivated mass shooting," he added.

Garnell Whitfield, who lost his mother, Ruth, during the shooting, said that America is losing the battle against white supremacy thanks to inaction.

Family members of victims in the Topps supermarket shooting react as Erie County District Attorney John Flynn reads the names of victims during a press conference at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y. on Monday.
Joshua Bessex / AP
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AP
Family members of victims in the Topps supermarket shooting react as Erie County District Attorney John Flynn reads the names of victims during a press conference at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y. on Monday.

"None of these people deserved this. And here we are begging for those in power to do something about it," Whitfield said.

"Am I happy that he's going to jail for life? At this point, honestly, I don't care," said Mark Talley, son of victim Geraldine Talley.

"At the end of the day, do I feel that this will cause change? Absolutely not," Talley said. "What would make me happy is if America could acknowledge its racism and racist history."

Gendron still faces 27 federal counts of murder and hate charges

At the federal level, Gendron is facing additional charges, including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, along with 13 counts of using, carrying or discharging a firearm.

If convicted on all 27 federal charges, Gendron could face either the death penalty or a second sentence of life in prison without parole. The attorney general will decide at a later date on whether to seek the death penalty, according to the Justice Department.

"The Justice Department fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a July news release.

"We will continue to be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support the communities terrorized by them, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them," he added.

In July, Gendron was indicted by a federal grand jury on hate crimes and firearm charges, according to the Justice Department. He has been held without bail since his arrest after the May 14 shooting.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
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