Buffalo supermarket attacker pleads guilty in mass shooting

US man who carried out white supremacist attack on a supermarket in predominantly Black area will face life in prison.

Families of victims hug outside courtroom in New York state
Families of victims hug outside the US courtroom after Payton Gendron appeared in court to plead guilty of charges of killing 10 people in a Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, November 28, 2022 [Lindsey DeDario/Reuters]

A white supremacist gunman who carried out a mass shooting that killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges.

Payton Gendron, 19, pleaded guilty on Monday to multiple counts related to the deadly May attack, including “hate-motivated domestic terrorism”, which comes with a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The hearing in Erie County Court was roughly 3km (2 miles) from the grocery store where Gendron used a semiautomatic rifle and body armour to carry out a racist assault he hoped would help preserve white power in the United States.

“It was established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had this gruesome motive, that in just over two minutes he murdered as many African Americans as he could,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a press conference after the plea. “Justice has been done today.”

The May 14 shooting at Tops Friendly Market killed 10 people and injured three others, aged between 32 and 86. Of the 13 people Gendron shot in the attack that authorities said was inspired by white supremacist beliefs, 11 were Black.

As the hearing proceeded, city officials and relatives of the victims filled the gallery, some wiping their eyes during what presiding Judge Susan Eagan called a “tremendously emotional event”.

Gendron sat silently and answered “yes” and “guilty” as the judge read out the names of the victims and asked the attacker if he killed them because of their race.

The verdict comes as the US continues to suffer from mass shootings and violent acts inspired by hate, including a recent attack at a gay bar in Colorado that killed five people and injured 18.

Gendron, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, drove about three hours to Buffalo from his home near Binghamton, New York, with the explicit goal of seeking out an area with a large Black population. He wore body armour and recorded the attack with a camera.

Gendron also said he was motivated to carry out the shooting based on the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, a white supremacist belief that posits white people are being “replaced” by people of colour.

“I believe that the evidence was overwhelming. There was no hiding that,” Flynn, the district attorney, said during Monday’s news conference. “This is not a surprise.”

Flynn also noted that Gendron spared and apologised to a white patron during the attack.

Gendron previously pleaded not guilty in June 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 pursue the death penalty.

Flynn noted that pleading guilty to state charges did not mean that Gendron would be automatically found guilty of federal charges. “That process will take its course,” he said. “From a technical standpoint, that matter is still progressing.”

The shooting caused grief in Buffalo’s large Black community, and a debate ensued over the future of the supermarket. Some residents wanted it to close or be converted into a space memorialising the victims, while others wanted to see it remain open.

The market is located in a predominantly Black area of the city that suffers from high levels of poverty and fought for years to get a grocery store.

The market was reopened in July, with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown saying at the time that the US city would not “let hate win”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies