Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn released a mugshot of apparent Buffalo, New York grocery store shooter Payton S. Gendron on Sunday morning. Gendron is suspected of livestreaming an attack that killed ten people and wounded three others at a Tops Friendly Market on Saturday afternoon. Authorities say the attack was racially motivated and that the defendant posted a detailed white supremacist, racist, and antisemitic manifesto online before donning heavy body armor, driving several hours, and pulling the trigger.
In a five-minute video posted to YouTube Sunday morning, Flynn reminded people that the shooter must be presumed “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law and that his job was to ensure that court proceedings are conducted according to standard legal norms.
“These are just allegations,” Flynn said with reference to Gendron. “But that is not gonna stop me from speaking out and letting this community know how outraged I am.”
“I obviously have to temper my outrage,” Flynn continued. “I have to make sure that a fair trial is conducted. I have to make sure that the rights of the defendant are upheld and that the process is done in the impartial manner that we handle all our trials here in Erie County.”
The county’s top law enforcement officer reminded people that the defendant was charged with first-degree murder — New York’s highest homicide charge.
New York’s first-degree murder charge applies only in specific circumstances and is not frequently applied in Erie County, the DA said during an earlier press conference Saturday. The circumstances include the killings of judges, police officers, peace officers, firefighters, emergency medical workers, witnesses to crimes, and corrections employees. The first-degree murder law also applies in a few other circumstances, such as where the defendant was already in jail on certain other charges, in murder-for-hire schemes, in certain felony murder cases (where deaths include and involve other underlying felonies, such as robbery, burglary, rape, and other crimes), and where victims were tortured prior to their deaths.
But it also applies to cases where a defendant, “as part of the same criminal transaction . . . causes the death of an additional person or persons.” That’s the language the DA zeroed in on while addressing possible charges on Saturday. The first-degree murder statute also applies where “the victim was killed in furtherance of an act of terrorism,” the definition of which is found elsewhere in state law.
“We have evidence that this was potentially racially motivated,” Flynn said. “We have evidence that potentially may lead us to a terrorism charge.”
The DA said he was looking at raising another possible charge involving “domestic acts of terrorism motivated by race” — which the DA said carried the same felony level (life without parole) as the first-degree murder charge already levied against the defendant.
The actual charge appears to be called “domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree.” The charge applies when a defendant kills “five or more other persons, in whole or in substantial part because of the perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation . . . regardless of whether that belief or perception is correct.”
A grand jury will be swiftly empaneled, prosecutors with Flynn’s office said yesterday during an arraignment. Gendron’s attorney entered a preliminary not guilty plea on his client’s behalf during that hearing.
“If we do our job, and if we have the families in mind, and the victims in mind, the community in mind, then, at the end of the day, hopefully justice will be done,” Flynn said on video Sunday morning.
The release of mugshots in criminal cases is relatively rare in New York State. A state law generally bans their dissemination to the public as an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” but that same law provides for the “public release of such photographs” when the release “will serve a specific law enforcement purpose and disclosure is not precluded by any state or federal laws.” Similar mugshot bans have been enacted in other states; New York’s has been subjected to varying degrees of praise and criticism. Meanwhile, mugshots of federal inmates are frequently hard to obtain. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2016 that arrestees can assert privacy interests in booking photos and, thus, that authorities need not necessarily release images of inmates to the press. The majority of judges in that case ruled that mugshots “convey guilt” and “haunt the depicted individual for decades.”
Watch the DA’s video message below:
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