BUFFALO, N.Y. — The white man charged with carrying out a racist mass shooting that killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket pleaded not guilty Thursday to hate-motivated domestic terrorism and other charges as a prosecutor called the evidence against him overwhelming.
A lawyer entered the plea for Payton Gendron, 18, who didn't speak during a brief hearing with a heavy security presence. Several court officers stood against the courtroom wall, keeping an eye on the roughly 30 spectators.
Witnesses, police and Gendron's own video and writings incriminated him as the gunman who used an AR-15-style assault rifle to target shoppers and employees of a Tops Friendly Market, which authorities said he chose because of its location in a predominantly Black neighborhood. All 10 people killed in the May 14 assault were Black.
"There is overwhelming proof of the defendant's guilt," Assistant District Attorney John Fereleto said. "The defendant was caught at the scene of the crime with the weapon in his hands."
Gendron has been held without bail since the shooting and is due back in court July 7.
He was charged with murder shortly after the attack. On Wednesday, a new indictment expanded the case to include a domestic terrorism charge that carries the potential for an automatic life sentence, along with 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon and three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime.
The domestic terrorism charge — officially, domestic acts of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree — accuses Gendron of killing at least five people "because of the perceived race and/or color" of his victims.
Prosecutors said Gendron drove about three hours to Buffalo from his home in Conklin, New York, intending to kill as many Black people as possible. Shortly before opening fire, he posted documents that outlined his white supremacist views and revealed he had been planning the attack for months.
The slain victims ranged in age from 32 to 86. Three other people were wounded.
The shooting, followed 10 days later by a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, has renewed a national debate about gun control.
Relatives of some of the victims who attended the court spoke after the arraignment and poured out their frustration.
Dominique Douglas and Michelle Spight, who say 52 year old Margus Morrison was their relative, said they wanted more information from prosecutors as to where this case is going. Spight said "We spoke in brief with the DA's office just to kind of make it clear that when we can't speak in the courtroom - their our voice. So I was happy to hear the counts against him but beyond that we want to see that come to fruition. Often times there's lots of courts read and there's charges but justice is what we don't often get in the black and brown community."
Douglas also said she is pressing for more of an investigation into the shooter's background and other potential contacts he had. She said "You mean he planned all this out as an ignorant thug? Scoped out the place with a manifesto. And you're gonna tell me that he did it on his own? There's no way he did that on his own."
Investigations continue at the state and federal levels. There is the possibility the suspect could eventually face federal charges as well which may be "death penalty eligible." The Buffalo News recently reported that investigators are looking into several other individuals including a retired Federal agent who were apparently invited into a chat room by the suspect a short time before the May 14 attack. The article also indicated someone may have given the suspect advice on weapons.