The white man accused of killing 10 black people in a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket was indicted by a grand jury on Wednesday on a domestic terrorism and hate crime charge that would carry a mandatory jail term of life.
Payton Gendron is due in court Thursday on the new 25-count indictment, which builds on a previous murder charge hastily prepared in the hours after the May 14 shooting.
The 18-year-old has now also been charged with the attempted murder of three people who were shot in the attack but survived, and with using a weapon while committing a crime.
He pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had told a judge on May 20 that the grand jury had voted to indict Gendron but had not disclosed the charges, saying the proceedings were ongoing.
Gendron’s attorney, Brian Parker, said he had not seen the indictment and could not comment, adding that a judge had barred prosecutors and defense attorneys from publicly discuss the case.
The horrific nature of the crime and the number of victims were likely to already warrant a life sentence if Gendron is found guilty. New York does not have the death penalty. But adding a state terrorism charge could have additional emotional resonance and help authorities send a message about violent extremism.
The domestic terrorism charge – Acts of Domestic Terrorism Motivated by Hate in the First Degree – charges Gendron with killing “because of the perceived race and/or color” of his victims.
“This man was motivated by hatred against people he has never met for no reason other than the color of their skin,” said Buffalo attorney John Elmore, who represents the families of victims Katherine “Kat.” Massey, 72, and Andre Mackniel, 53. Elmore said he hoped for a conviction on all counts.
Former Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the Domestic Terrorism Hate Crimes Act in August 2019, following a mass shooting targeting Mexicans at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. The measure, dubbed the “Josef Neumann Domestic Terrorism Hate Crime Act” after an attack on a rabbi’s home in Munsey, New York, was signed into law on April 3, 2020 and went into effect November 1, 2020.
The law expands on a previous domestic terrorism law passed after the 9/11 terrorist attack, which was widely seen as a way to combat international extremism.
Prosecutors said Gendron drove about three hours to Buffalo from his home in Conklin, New York, intending to kill as many black people as possible. Shortly before the attack, he released documents outlining his white supremacist views and revealing that he had been planning the attack for months.
The shooter, carrying an AR-15 type rifle he had recently purchased, opened fire on shoppers at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
Murder charges were filed for each of the victims, who ranged in age from 32 to 86 and included eight customers, the store’s security guard and a church deacon who drove shoppers to and from the store with their groceries .
The shooting, followed 10 days later by a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, reignited a national debate over gun control.
Mackniel was in the store buying a birthday cake for her 3-year-old. Massey was a community activist who stood up for gun control and fought against racism, Elmore said.
“To have my life taken by a white supremacist extremist at the hands of a weapon of mass destruction is extremely heartbreaking to me,” he said. He is part of a team of lawyers exploring potential legal action against the makers of the gun and body armor used by the shooter, as well as social media platforms.
The attack was broadcast live from a helmet-mounted camera.
“One way or another, we are going to find justice for the Massey family, for the Mackniel family and for everyone affected by this tragedy,” Elmore said.
Federal authorities are also investigating the possibility of hate crime charges against Gendron, who apparently detailed his plans and racist motivation in hundreds of pages of writings he posted online shortly before the shooting.
Amanda Drury, who lost her 32-year-old sister Roberta Drury, said she left it to the court system to decide which charges were appropriate in the case.
“I will continue with my faith in the justice system,” she said.
Associated Press writers Michael Sisak and Jennifer Peltz contributed from New York.