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Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect to plead guilty, victims’ lawyers say

A memorial hangs on a sign in July near Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, the site of a racially motivated mass shooting that left 10 dead. (Lauren Petracca for The Washington Post)

The man suspected of killing 10 people in a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo grocery store in May is expected to plead guilty to state charges, two attorneys for the victims’ families said Thursday.

Payton Gendron, 19, plans to enter a guilty plea to 25 charges on Monday, said attorney John Elmore, who represents two of the victims’ families. They were informed in recent weeks of the planned plea, which was proposed by Gendron’s defense lawyer and waives the right to an appeal, Elmore said.

Gendron’s attorney, Daniel Dubois, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

A grand jury indicted Gendron on 25 state counts, including domestic terrorism and murder as a hate crime, in late May. A separate federal hate crimes case, which could bring the death penalty if Gendron is convicted, is pending.

Police say Gendron meticulously planned the shooting to target Black people under a racist ideology called the “great replacement” theory, driving three hours from his hometown of Conklin, N.Y., to the Tops Friendly Markets in a predominantly Black section of Buffalo. Wearing body armor and wielding a semiautomatic rifle, authorities say, he opened fire in the parking lot and inside the store, shooting 13 people — 11 of them Black.

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Gendron allegedly published a 180-page racist screed online before the attack and live-streamed the shooting. He surrendered to police and when arraigned pleaded not guilty to the state and federal charges.

Gendron is scheduled to appear in court at 2 p.m. Monday, according to Kait Munro, a spokesperson for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Munro declined to comment further, citing a gag order issued by the judge for the prosecution and the defense in the case.

Elmore said the guilty plea in the state case, which will almost certainly lead to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole under New York law, may be a “card to present” in the federal case, where Gendron faces the possibility of the death penalty. Capital punishment is banned in New York.

“In the face of overwhelming evidence, he doesn’t have a lot of cards to play,” Elmore said.

Another attorney for several of the families, Terrence Connors, confirmed that lawyers for Gendron and the state approached him about the plea, which Gendron’s lawyers hope to be able to “parlay” into negotiations with federal prosecutors.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, which is prosecuting the federal case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Gendron probably will be sentenced in the state case in six to eight weeks, Connors said.

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For the victims’ families, the plea represents a “step toward their march for justice,” Elmore said, though they want to see accountability from other parties they hold responsible, including social media platforms and the manufacturer of the gun and body armor. The families are also pushing New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to sign a bill to update the state’s 150-year-old wrongful-death statute, which restricts the amount of compensation that families can receive.

Connors said that the families he represents now look upon the gunman as being “irrelevant to their lives” and that they are “content to look forward.”

“This is really chapter one of accountability,” he said of the plea.

At a news conference Thursday about a snowstorm bearing down on Buffalo, Hochul reacted to news of the expected guilty plea, saying the victims’ families “need justice.”

“The pain is still raw,” Hochul said. “It’s going to be hard for the families as the court proceedings continue and they have to relive the horror they went through because of the loss of their loved one, but the system needs to work and those families deserve justice.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown welcomed the plea when asked for his reaction at the news conference.

“It is going to be difficult for the families — it will open up that wound again, but I think it’s good that this individual is pleading guilty,” Brown said.

Shayna Jacobs and David Nakamura contributed to this report.

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