Buffalo gunman pleads guilty in racist supermarket massacre
Payton Gendron is led into the courtroom for a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, New York, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Gendron faces charges in the May 14 fatal shooting at a supermarket. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

BUFFALO, New York (AP) — The white gunman who massacred 10 Black shoppers and workers at a Buffalo supermarket pleaded guilty Monday to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges, guaranteeing he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Payton Gendron, 19, entered the plea Monday in a courthouse roughly two miles from the grocery store where he used a semiautomatic rifle and body armor to carry out a racist assault he hoped would help preserve white power in the US.

Gendron, who was handcuffed and wore an orange jumpsuit, occasionally licked and clenched his lips as he pleaded guilty to all of the most serious charges in the grand jury indictment, including murder, murder as a hate crime and hate-motivated domestic terrorism, which carries an automatic sentence of life without parole.

He answered “yes” and “guilty” as Judge Susan Eagan referred to each victim by name and asked whether he killed them because of their race. Gendron also pleaded guilty to wounding three people who survived the May attack.

After the roughly 45-minute proceeding ended, Gendron’s lawyers suggested that he now regrets his crimes, but they didn’t elaborate or take questions.

“This critical step represents a condemnation of the racist ideology that fuelled his horrific actions on May 14,” said Gendron’s lawyer, Brian Parker. “It is our hope that a final resolution of the state charges will help in some small way to keep the focus on the needs of the victims and the community.”

Gendron’s parents, in their first public statement, said the guilty plea ensures their son will be held accountable. Paul and Pamela Gendron said they “pray for healing for everyone affected.” They thanked law enforcement authorities who investigated the case, adding they will “continue to provide any assistance we can.”

“We remain shocked and shattered to learn that our son was responsible for the hideous attack at the Tops grocery store on May 14, 2022,” said the emailed statement, which was provided to The Associated Press by their attorney.

Gendron has pleaded not guilty to separate federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence if he is convicted. The US Justice Department has not said whether it will seek capital punishment. Acknowledgement of guilt and a claim of repentance could potentially help Gendron in a penalty phase of a death penalty trial.

Gendron wore body armor and used a legally purchased AR-15 style rifle in his attack on the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo. Those killed ranged in age from 32 to 86 and included an armed security guard died trying to protect customers, a church deacon and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. Gendron surrendered when police confronted him as he emerged from the store.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who was in the courtroom for Gendron’s guilty plea, told reporters afterwards that “It was important to hear why these precious lives were snatched from us for no other reason than the colour of their skin.”

The mayor, a Democrat, called for a ban on assault weapons, as did Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. Relatives of the victims reiterated their calls for Congress and the FBI to address white supremacy and gun violence. “We are literally begging for those in power to do something about it,” said Garnell Whitfield, whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, was killed.”

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