WBEN Legal Analysis: 'A small step towards their march to justice' as Tops shooting suspect to plead guilty today
Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - A white gunman who targeted a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood plans to plead guilty on Monday to killing 10 people and wounding three others, according to lawyers representing victims’ relatives.
Payton Gendron, 19, is scheduled to appear in Erie County Court for a hearing that was postponed for a week by a snowstorm.
Gendron’s lawyers disclosed in recent weeks that he planned to plead guilty to all of the counts in a state indictment and to waive his right to appeal, according to attorneys John Elmore and Terrence Connors, who represent families of those killed and injured.
Attorney John Elmore represents families of some of the shooting victims and tells WBEN they feel somewhat relieved they do not have to go through a trial. "But this is just a small step towards their march to justice because there's still a federal case pending, where (the suspect) is facing the possibility of a death penalty," says Elmore. He says the march toward justice will continue with civil matters, He says he's looking into litigation against the manufacturer of the weapon, the manufacturer of the gun magazine and the manufacturer of the bulletproof vest.
Elmore believes the shooter's attorneys have one reason for pleading guilty to the state charges Monday. "(He) is like a cornered rat or a caged rat, he has no place to go," said Elmore. He says this is the biggest card that they've had is that he's accepting responsibility in state court, that he's sentenced to life imprisonment. "It's a very heinous crime, and he doesn't have a lot of cards to play. And apparently he wants to live, he doesn't want to face death by injection, so this is the best hope that he can have to have is life spared, they said to plead guilty early and admit responsibility for what he did," adds Elmore.
Attorney Terry Connors also represents victims' families and tells WBEN he agrees with Elmore on the shooter's motives for pleading guilty. "I assume that the one of the reasons for entering a plea of guilty to each count of the indictment in the state prosecution is that it will demonstrate that he accepted some responsibility, and that may help him that may help him in connection with the decision of the federal prosecutors to decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty.," says Connors.
Connors says the families he represents are remarkable. "They're really a remarkable group in the sense that their focus isn't on the shooter and the horrible, racist conduct of the shooter that focuses on trying to turn this terrible tragedy into something positive for our community," says Connors. "They're volunteering, they're doing things in his buffalo that have never been attempted before. They're speaking everywhere and speaking out about racism and hate."
The 25-count grand jury indictment includes charges of murder, murder as a hate crime and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, which carries an automatic life sentence upon conviction.
Gendron also faces charges for separate federal hate crimes that could result in a death sentence if he is convicted. The U.S. Justice Department has not said whether it would seek capital punishment.
Investigators said Gendron drove about three hours to Buffalo from his home in Conklin, New York, intending to kill as many Black people as possible at a store that he chose because of its location in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Shortly before opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle on May 14, he posted documents that outlined his white supremacist views and revealed that he had been planning the attack for months . Inside the store, he roamed the aisles and livestreamed the attack from a helmet-mounted camera as he shot store employees and shoppers.
Those killed ranged in age from 32 to 86.
He was arrested in the parking lot upon exiting through the store's front entrance.
Relatives of the victims have since called on Congress to address issues of white supremacy and gun violence. A food summit organized by Buffalo-based attorney and activist Kevin Gaughan last month focused on closing the “grocery gap” laid bare by the attack on the neighborhood’s only supermarket.
The supermarket was closed for two months .