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Tops shooting suspect appears in federal court, before victims' families

The defendant waived both preliminary and detention hearings. Some of the relatives of victims were in court to see him firsthand Thursday morning.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The teenager accused of shooting and killing 10 Black people at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue was in federal court on Thursday.

The accused shooter is facing 26 federal charges. 2 On Your Side was there and has some of the interesting courtroom discussion and reaction from the victim's families.

With a heavy Federal Protective Police presence, the U.S. Courthouse in Buffalo was the setting Thursday morning as 18-year-old Payton Gendron made what is formally called his initial court appearance. That follows the 26 count federal criminal complaint, which included the special hate crime provisions and death penalty eligible charge use of a weapon to kill the 10 victims.

The defendant waived both preliminary and detention hearings. 

Some relatives of victims were in court to see him firsthand.

Tamika Harper, who is the niece of Geraldine Talley, told us when she saw the suspect she was, "Very angry. Very, very angry. He has not a lick of remorse. He has no remorse."

Zeneta Everhart, who is the mother of wounded victim Zaire Goodman, said, "It's hard being in a courtroom with a terrorist, seeing the man who tried to kill my son. Sitting there in the same space, sharing the same space with him is hard."

But she added: "I need to share space with him. I need that. That's part of my healing process through this."

Gendron has previously been in state court, where he faces a 25-count actual indictment. Thursday in federal court, he did answer some questions about his understanding of the charges against him and what he said was his lack of resources to pay for legal counsel.

There are three attorneys from the Federal Public Defenders Office now representing him, just like three court appointed attorneys at the state level. Their costs are covered by taxpayers, as all defendants are guaranteed representation in the criminal justice system.

Federal Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder says the defendant's required financial disclosure form shows only $16 in his checking account and two shares of Disney stock with no property or vehicle in his name.

Yet the FBI says he drove a blue Ford Taurus to the store and had purchased the semi-automatic rifle used in the killings and body armor he was wearing. Authorities say there was also a shotgun, another rifle, and laptop found in that car at the scene.

Harper responded to hearing that information, noting "that's expensive stuff. Somebody was funding those things."

Again, there was no indication of any presence of the defendant's parents or any family members, to which Harper said: "Why wouldn't they reach out and say, 'You know, this is their son.' They created this animal. That bothers me, that the parents are just nowhere to be found. Not saying anything."

It is known that potential lawsuits could be filed against the defendant's parents, who live in the home in Conklin, New York, near Binghamton.   

The 26-count federal criminal complaint filed against him Wednesday was in line with the visit of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. And while Garland largely deferred reporters' questions about the death penalty eligible nature of the case, Federal Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder urged prosecutors to tell Justice department officials to make a decision on it as soon as possible to save taxpayers the burden of expensive expert witness testimony it would require.

Prosecutors replied they hoped to be as "expeditious" as possible in relaying that message and seeking a decision on such.   

Attorney John Elmore, who is representing some victims' families, was somewhat surprised by that discussion.

"I can tell you that as an attorney with death penalty experience that that's unrealistic, that the government is going to make a determination in 30 days," Elmore said. "It's going to take a long time. It's going to take the government probably a year or more to make that determination."

Victims' relatives heard that in-court discussion, and the Justice Department will ask for their views on capital punishment for this case.

"I'm against the death penalty, just generally speaking," Zeneta Everhart said. "I consider myself a humanist. I believe in the preservation of human life. But I also trust the prosecutors. I trust the U.S. Attorney General. If that is the direction that he thinks we need to go in this case, then that's where we're going to go."

Tamika Hart has had various thoughts on the subject.

"At first, I said the death penalty would be too easy. That would be too easy," hart said. "But the way they have him protected in jail, that's easy too. So, and I'm a very Christian person, I believe in God, and I don't wish death on anyone. But this right here, I have some work on that because I would rather see him dead. I would rather see him dead."

The federal judge arranged for Gendron to be transferred into federal custody temporarily so he could appear in federal court. He has now been sent back to the Erie County Holding Center, where he is being held still in isolation. 

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