BUFFALO, N.Y. — The white man who opened fire on Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10, appeared in federal court Thursday, a day after Attorney General Merrick Garland met with the victims' families and announced hate crime charges that could bring the death penalty.
Payton Gendron, 18, has been held without bail since his arrest shortly after the May 14 attack at a Tops Friendly Supermarket, which also left three people wounded.
He appeared in U.S. District Court on a criminal complaint charging him with 10 counts each of hate crime resulting in death and using a firearm to commit murder. The complaint also includes three counts each of hate crime involving bodily injury and attempt to kill, and using a firearm in a violent crime.
The suspect agreed to waive his rights to a detention hearing and a preliminary hearing on the government's evidence for his case.
We were told by court officials that none of the defendant's family were present for this federal hearing just as they have not apparently attended any of the state court proceedings for the suspect. Federal officials stated in their released criminal complaint that a handwritten note from Gendron was found in his bedroom during a search of his parents' home by the FBI, They say that in that note he apologized to his family for committing "this attack" and said he had to do so because he cares "for the future of the White Race."
Gendron was flanked by three federal public defenders and told the judge he cannot afford to pay for representation on his own. When questioned further by the judge about his finances, the alleged shooter told the judge that he has no property and does not own a car. He said further he has $16 in a bank account and owns two shares of Disney stock. 2 On Your Side's Ron Plants reports family members of some of the shooting victims were present for the proceeding and they said they feel someone must have been helping him to acquire expensive weapons and body armor and his social media contacts.
The federal hate crimes case is based partly on documents in which Gendron detailed his plans for the attack, including the semi-automatic rifle he would use, clothing and body armor he would wear and the portable camera that would allow him to stream the massacre live on the internet. Police say they also found a loaded shotgun, a loaded bolt action rifle, three loaded rifle magazines, and a laptop with the suspect's alleged manifesto in the blue Ford Taurus he drove to the Tops store.
The writings included “statements that his motivation for the attack was to prevent Black people from replacing white people and eliminating the white race, and to inspire others to commit similar racially-motivated attacks,” according to the complaint.
Garland, who halted federal executions last year, has not ruled out seeking the death penalty against Gendron. However, the judge Thursday did note this is a death penalty eligible case, and told prosecutors that they should ask their Justice Department superiors to decide fairly quickly whether or not to pursue it. The judge noted he does not want taxpayers to foot the bill for the hiring of various expert witnesses if the death penalty is not going to be sought.
Prosecutors replied that they would try to be "expeditious' as possible in getting that message to Justice Department officials who will ultimately decide if they will seek the death penalty in this case.
Gendron was already facing a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted on previously filed state charges, including hate-motivated domestic terrorism and murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Following the brief appearance in US District Court in Buffalo, he was returned to state custody.
Gendron's attorney, Brian Parker, declined to comment on the new charges, citing a judge's gag order.
Gendron drove more than 200 miles from his home in Conklin to a predominantly Black part of Buffalo. There, authorities say, he fired approximately 60 shots at shoppers and workers.
The complaint details his path through the store's aisles in search of victims as customers and employees ran to take cover in a stock room, conference room, freezer and dairy cooler.
Gendron surrendered to police as he exited the supermarket.