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White supremacist gets life sentence for Buffalo supermarket massacre

Payton Gendron is led into the court for a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo (Matt Rourke/AP)
Carolyn Thompson, AP

A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket was sentenced to life in prison without parole after listening to relatives of his victims express their pain and anguish.

The sentencing hearing for Payton Gendron was disrupted briefly when a man in the court charged at him but was quickly restrained.

It resumed after about 10 minutes, with emotional testimony from people who talked about losing loved ones in the attack in Buffalo, New York.

Peyton Gendron, whose hatred was fuelled by racist conspiracy theories he found online, cried during some of the testimony and apologised to victims in a brief statement.

The judge imposed separate sentences of life without parole, one for each victim, to run concurrently. She also denied giving Gendron youthful offender status, which might have given him a chance to eventually be freed.

Buffalo shooting
People hug outside the scene after the supermarket shooting (Joshua Bessex/AP)

“There was nothing hasty or thoughtless about your conduct. There are no mitigating factors to be considered,” Judge Susan Eagan said.

Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.

Gendron, 19, wore bullet-proof armour and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack with a semi-automatic rifle he bought legally but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Gendron also faces separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the US Justice Department chooses to seek it.

His defence lawyer said in December, that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court as well to avoid execution.

The sentencing was a chance for loved ones of the dead, as well as people wounded in the attack last spring, to speak of their anguish.

Flowers and candles lay outside the scene of the  shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo (Matt Rourke/PA)

“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones, the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said.

“You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet, and it was a big mistake.

“I hope you find it in your heart to apologise to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason.”

Kimberly Salter, the widow of security guard Aaron Salter, explained that she and her family were wearing “red for the blood that he shed for his family and for his community, and black because we are still grieving”.

Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, said he was haunted by seeing the victims on the ground as he was carried out of the store.

“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.

At one point, Gendron began crying himself.

There were only three survivors after Gendron shot 13 people, specifically seeking out black shoppers and workers.

Police walk outside the Tops grocery shop (Joshua Bessex/PA)

His victims at the Tops market included a church deacon, the grocery shop’s guard, a neighborhood activist, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.

In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the US.

He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly black neighborhood.

The mass shooting in Buffalo, and another less than two weeks later that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls, including from victims’ relatives who traveled to Washington, DC to testify before politicians.

New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semi automatic rifle sales to most people under the age of 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armour.

President Joe Biden signed a compromise gun violence bill in June intended to increase background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people judged to be dangerous.

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