White gunman who massacred 10 Black people willing to plead guilty to federal charges to avoid death penalty, lawyer says

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The white gunman who pleaded guilty to state charges in the massacre of 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket is willing to plead guilty to federal charges if spared the death penalty, his lawyer said in court Friday.

Payton Gendron, 19, pleaded guilty last month to state charges of murder and hate-motivated terrorism in the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market.

His guilty plea in the state case guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

But he still faces separate federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence if convicted.

Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. asked lawyers at a status conference in the federal case Friday why they were devoting time and effort to evidence related to Gendron’s guilt when he has already pleaded in state court.

Defense attorney Sonya Zoghlin said Gendron is prepared to enter a guilty plea in federal court in exchange for a life sentence.

“It is still our hope to resolve this matter short of a trial,” she said.

However, the Justice Department has yet to decide whether to seek capital punishment in the case.

The department has not initiated any new efforts to seek the death penalty since President Joe Biden took office and there is a moratorium on executions. But the department has not sought to block the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston from supporting the death sentence for marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Lawyers in the Gendron case said they would meet after the holidays to allow the defense to present mitigating reasons why he should not receive a death sentence.

Judge Schroeder said he would give the defense until March 10 to review discovery and start preliminary talks with prosecutors.

Gendron wore body armor and used a legally purchased AR-15 style rifle in his attack.

A total of 13 people, including 11 Black people and two white people, were shot in the massacre, which Gendron had streamed on the social media platform Twitch. A Twitch spokesperson had said the video was pulled “less than two minutes after the violence started.”

During an investigation into the shooting, authorities found a document that appeared to be written by the suspect, suggesting he had targeted Buffalo because it was the city with the most Black residents in closest proximity to his home.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com