BUFFALO, N.Y. — The white man accused of slaughtering 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket appeared in court Thursday morning as authorities including the FBI continue to investigate the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges.
The felony hearing for Payton Gendron, 18, was adjourned until next month for further proceedings after it was announced that he had been indicted by a Grand Jury.
Gendron is accused of livestreaming the attack from a helmet camera before surrendering to police outside the grocery store. Shortly before the attack last Saturday, he posted hundreds of pages of writings to online discussion groups where he detailed his plans for the assault and his racist motivation.
Investigators have been examining those documents, which included a private diary he kept on the chat platform Discord.
At his initial court appearance last week, Gendron's court-appointed lawyer entered a plea of "not guilty" on his behalf.
Families of the victims were in court on Thursday. This is the first time they came to face with the suspect.
2 On Your Side's Ron Plants was in court for the hearing. He says one family member of a victim yelled, "Payton, you’re a coward!" as court was dismissed.
"The felony hearing scheduled to occur this morning before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig D. Hannah has been adjourned pursuant to New York State Criminal Procedure Law Article 180.80 due to action of the Grand Jury. The matter is scheduled to return for further proceedings on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. before Judge Hannah. The defendant continues to remain held without bail. There will be no further comment from our office until there is a report following an investigation by the Grand Jury. As are all persons accused of a crime, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
As indicated by prosecutors in Court this morning, the Grand Jury has voted to indict the defendant. The Grand Jury investigation has not been completed. Our office cannot comment further until there is an indictment reported to the Court following a complete investigation by the Grand Jury. At this time, the defendant remains charged with one count of Murder in the First Degree in Buffalo City Court.”
The massacre at the Tops supermarket was unsettling even in a nation that has become numb to mass shootings. All but two of the 13 of the people shot during the attack were Black. Gendron's online writings said he planned the assault after becoming infatuated with white supremacist ideology he encountered online.
The diary said Gendron planned his attack in secret, with no outside help, but Discord confirmed Wednesday that an invitation to access his private writings was sent to a small group of people about 30 minutes before the assault began.
Some of them accepted the invitation. It was unclear how many read what he had written or logged on to view the assault live. It also wasn't clear whether anyone tried to alert law enforcement.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia has said investigators were working to obtain, verify and review Gendron's online postings.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday authorized the state's attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate social media platforms used by Gendron to determine if they were liable for "providing a platform to plan and promote violence."
We spoke with two local attorneys about this case for their perspectives.
Even with all the evidence, prominent attorney Barry Covert of Lipsitz, Green, Scime, Cambria LLP says there's still a potential defense strategy. "He did live streaming events, he did confess prior tom the events through the manifesto that he was going to commit these offenses. So this case really on the state side comes down to mental health. Is there going to be an attempt to use some type of mental health defense, the most common being that he was not guilty by reason of insanity."
And while this is still a state court case, federal prosecutors are thought to be working concurrently with a federal trial perhaps a long ways off for this suspect. Attorney Terrance Flynn who is a former US Attorney for the Western New York District says we can look at the example of the James Kopp case from some 20 years ago. Flynn says "Remember the situation with Mr. Kopp and the murder of Dr. Slepian. You had a state proceeding that went into a certain time period and then years later there was the federal proceeding that occurred in federal court in Buffalo So that's an example of where one proceeding moves a little quicker than the othe. And then due to basic procedure issues, scheduling issues and so forth. So it coud take a while."
Covert agrees noting this potential timeline. "Years and years and years. On both the state and federal side I would expect that this is a multi year process. Because of the dire consequences in both courts - life without parole is a potential sanction. In federal court the death penalty is availed. And if the death penalty is not sought by the federal government, he also could be facing life incarceration on the federal side."