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In the first federal court appearance of accused Buffalo mass shooter Payton Gendron on new hate crime charges, the judge warned prosecutors of the high taxpayer expense of seeking the death penalty.
During the hearing Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., cautioned the government about the expenditures of seeking death penalty, as he has seen in past cases the government spending a lot of taxpayers’ money during that process just to later change their mind. So, the judge urged the government to make a clear decision as soon as possible.
“We hear you,” New York assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi responded, promising to “convey the message.” He said next point in the process will be to seek an indictment in the next 30 days, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will make the “sole decision” on whether to seek the death penalty.
No plea was entered Thursday and no new court dates were immediately scheduled.
DOJ FILES FEDERAL HATE CRIME CHARGES AGAINST BUFFALO MASS SHOOTING SUSPECT PAYTON GENDRON
The hearing comes after the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint Wednesday against 18-year-old Gendron, of Conklin, New York, charging him with 26 counts of hate crimes and firearms offenses, which carry the potential of the death penalty. Garland traveled to Buffalo Wednesday and met with the families of the victims and survivors of the May 14 shooting at Tops market.
The shooting killed 10 people and left another three wounded. According to the criminal complaint, “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.”
During Thursday’s proceedings, Gendron spoke to and seemed to consult attorneys often. When the death penalty was referenced multiple times, Gendron did not appear to have any reaction.
He seemed calm and reserved throughout the proceedings. Among the 50 to 60 people in the gallery, an official in the courtroom indicated a couple dozen of them were victims’ family members.
“I’m a Christian person, I don’t wish death on anyone,” Tamika Harper, a niece of 62-year-old victim Geraldine Talley told The Associated Press after the hearing, “but this right here I have to work with it, because I would rather see him dead.”
“I’m angry, very, very angry,” said Harper, who wore pins on her top with the victims’ pictures. “He has not shown a lick of remorse.”
Gendron’s family was not present for the hearing.
“It’s hard being here. It’s hard being in a courtroom with a terrorist,” Zeneta Everhart, whose 21-year-old son, Zaire Goodman, a Tops employee, was shot in the neck but survived, told the AP. “Seeing the man who tried to kill my son sitting there, sharing the same space with him, is hard.”
She called being in court “part of my healing process.”
The judge went over the charges and asked Gendron several procedural questions to which the defendant replied several times simply “yes.” Schroeder then asked him a few financial questions to make the determination that the defendant is eligible to a public federal defender representation. The defendant was asked until when he had been making money from a job, Gendron answered “a year.”
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He was asked if he had any bank accounts and how much money he had in them. He said he had checking and savings accounts and had “$16, had no car and two shares of Disney stock.
Gendron wore an orange jumpsuit, shackles and a black mask covering a scruffy beard. He leaned forward slightly in his chair with his head down when the judge read the charges. He was already facing a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted on previously filed state charges, including hate-motivated domestic terrorism and murder. He has pleaded not guilty.
Fox News’ Stephen Goin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.