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Accused Tops shooter granted public defender in federal case

Buffalo Police Department officers stand outside the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue May 14, 2022, several hours after a white gunman shot 13 mostly Black victims in what authorities have called a hate crime.
Tom Dinki
Buffalo Police stand outside Tops on May 14.

The 18-year-old man prosecutors say carried out a racially-motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket last month made his first federal court appearance Thursday.

Payton Gendron faces 26 counts in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday, all related to the shooting of 13 people – 10 of them fatally – at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue May 14. A federal grand jury had not yet returned an indictment as of Thursday morning’s appearance, and the defendant did not enter a plea.

Gendron did, however, request and was granted a public defender, citing his financial inability to hire his own attorney.

US Magistrate Judge Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., who granted the request, urged federal prosecutors to make a decision soon on whether to pursue the death penalty, citing the potentially high taxpayer cost to defend a death penalty case and his obligation to limit public expenses where possible.

Federal prosecutors say they intend to prove Gendron discussed his plan online, visited Tops ahead of the shooting, and specifically targeted the Jefferson Avenue location because of its predominantly local black population. He is alleged to have been motivated by a conspiracy theory suggesting the replacement of the white population.

The defendant remains held without bail in the custody of New York State, which has also charged him in the shootings.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.