Guilty plea possible from Buffalo gunman on federal charges

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The white gunman who pleaded guilty to state charges in the massacre of 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket would be willing plead guilty to federal charges if spared the death penalty, his lawyer said in court Friday.

Payton Gendron pleaded guilty late last month to state charges of murder and hate-motivated terrorism, guaranteeing he will spend the rest of his life in prison. But he still faces separate federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence if he is convicted.

Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. asked lawyers at a status conference in the federal case Friday why they were devoting time and effort to evidence related to Gendron’s guilt when he has already pleaded in state court.

Defense attorney Sonya Zoghlin said Gendron is prepared to enter a guilty plea in federal court in exchange for a life sentence.

“It is still our hope to resolve this matter short of a trial,” she said.

However, the Justice Department has yet to decide whether to seek capital punishment in the case.

The department has not initiated any new efforts to seek the death penalty since President Joe Biden took office and there is a moratorium on executions. But the department has not sought block the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston from supporting the death sentence for marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Lawyers in the Gendron case said they would meet after the holidays to allow the defense to present mitigating reasons why he should not receive a death sentence.

Judge Schroeder said he would give the defense until March 10 to review discovery and start preliminary talks with prosecutors.

Gendron wore body armor and used a legally purchased AR-15 style rifle in his attack on the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo in May. He said in documents posted online just before the attack that he’d picked the store, about a three hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86 and included eight customers and a store security guard who died trying to protect shoppers. Three more people were wounded.

Gendron surrendered when police confronted him as he emerged from the store.

Gendron, 19, did not appear in court Friday.