Accused Tops massacre gunman expected to plead guilty to state charges on Monday

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Buffalo Police Department officers stand outside the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue May 14, 2022, several hours after a white gunman shot 13 mostly Black victims in what authorities have called a hate crime. (Tom Dinki/WBFO)

(EDITORIAL NOTE: While WBFO has chosen not to give the accused gunman extra fame nor gratuitously name him, in stories about his court proceedings, we have opted to identify him. To not do so would be incomplete journalism, and people of color have suggested that anonymity could provide cover to racism that ought to be otherwise exposed and discussed.)

(WBFO) – Payton Gendron, the alleged gunman who has been charged with 25 state charges relating to the May 14th Tops massacre, is expected to plead guilty to all charges on Monday, according to attorneys that represent victims’ families.

“I am aware that Payton Gendron intends to plead guilty to the complete indictments, all 25 counts of guilty, and waive his right to appeal. The judge will have no option but to sentence to life without parole,” says Buffalo Attorney John Elmore, who represents the families of Kat Massey and Andre Mackniel.

Gendron was charged with one count of domestic terrorism in the first-degree, 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted second-degree murder as a hate crime, and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Attorney Terrance Connors, who also represents families of the victims, says they were made aware that a guilty plea to state charges was possible about three weeks ago. Attorneys were advised to hold off on sharing that information outside of the families until it was on the court docket.

“He’s going to plead guilty to the 25 counts in the indictment. And I assume that the sentence will be life imprisonment without parole,” Connors said.

New York State’s domestic terrorism criminal statutes have been on the books for less than two years. They went into effect in November 2020 and this case is the first that will apply those statutes. A conviction on first-degree domestic terrorism would mean automatic life in prison with no chance for parole.

Both Connors and Elmore say the plea on state charges is likely a strategy by the defense to argue against the death penalty on Gendron’s federal charges.

“The main goal of any defense attorney when there’s overwhelming evidence of guilt like this, is to save their client’s life. And I can’t help but to imagine that this plea of guilty is motivated by Gendron’s desire to save his life and his attorney’s desire to save his life,” Elmore said.

Elmore said that the US Attorney’s office is currently deciding if they should seek the death penalty. As part of the deliberation process, the defense will meet with the prosecution, and that is when the defense may use Gendron’s guilty plea on state charges as part of their argument against seeking the death penalty.

“They will then argue to the federal prosecutors that he’s accepted responsibility and that avoiding the trial and the attended horror and difficulty for the families, and therefore that should weigh into the decision as to whether or not they seek the death penalty,” Connors said. “Because in the federal system, they’re trying to avoid the death penalty,” he added.

Gendron faces 27 charges at the federal level. Those charges include 10 counts of a hate crime resulting in death, three counts of a hate crime involving bodily injury and attempt to kill, one count of a hate crime alleging that Gendron attempted to kill additional Black people in and around the store, 10 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a violent crime, and three counts of discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime.

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