A federal magistrate on Thursday urged federal prosecutors to quickly decide whether to seek the death penalty for alleged Buffalo supermarket shooter Payton Gendron, citing the expense to taxpayers of defending a death-eligible defendant.
Gendron, 18, said at the U.S. District Court hearing that he has all of $16 to his name, prompting U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Schroeder to assign him “learned counsel” – attorneys with experience in death penalty cases – from the Federal Public Defenders Office.
“This case has now been around for a month. I would hope the Department of Justice would undertake steps that would reasonably bring about” a decision whether to seek the death penalty, Schroeder said.
Prosecutors told the judge they will inform their superiors of his request, but noted no decision could be made before an indictment is returned.
Gendron made his first appearance in federal court, a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the 26 federal counts against him and met with loved ones of the victims in Buffalo.
Schroeder read the charges and the potential penalties before declaring, “Those are the charges you are now facing as a result of this criminal complaint.”
Gendron gave mostly one-word answers to a series of questions involving his finances in order to establish that he’s eligible for court-appointed counsel.
“When was the last time you had gainful employment approximately?” Schroeder asked.
“A year,” Gendron replied.
Gendron allegedly “wrote about his acquisition of firearms, ammunition, firearm magazines, body armor, a GoPro camera, and other supplies for the attack,” according to the criminal complaint, but the document did not say how Gendron paid for the items.
The suspect is charged with 10 federal counts of committing a hate crime resulting in death; three counts of committing a hate crime involving an attempt to kill; 10 counts of using a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence; and three counts of using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Gendron did not enter a plea to the charges.
"The Complaint further alleges that Gendron’s motive for the mass shooting was to prevent Black people from replacing white people and eliminating the white race, and to inspire others to commit similar attacks," the Department of Justice said in a statement released Wednesday.
Gendron of Conklin, New York, which is more than 200 miles southeast of Buffalo, is accused of storming a Tops grocery store on May 14 and gunning down people outside and inside the market with an AR-15-style weapon that he legally purchased near his home, authorities said.
Garland said Wednesday that Gendron allegedly planned the massacre for months, including driving to the store to sketch the layout and count the number of Black people present.
Garland also revealed that at one point during the attack, Gendron allegedly aimed his Bushmaster XM rifle at a white Tops employee, who was shot in the leg and injured. He alleged that Gendron apologized to the victim before continuing the attack.
Gendron allegedly livestreamed part of the attack on the Internet before his feed was cut, according to the federal complaint.
Gendron was also indicted this month on25 state charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder. He is also the first person in New York state history to be charged with domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a crime enacted in the state in November 2020.
He is charged in state court with 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime and one count of criminal possession of a weapon. During his June 2 arraignment on the state charges, Gendron's court-appointed lawyers entered a plea of not guilty to all of the charges on his behalf.