By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) -The avowed white supremacist accused of a racist attack that killed 10 people at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to 25 counts in an indictment returned by a grand jury, court documents showed.
The accused shooter, Payton Gendron, appeared in court for an arraignment hearing in front of Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan, who ordered the 18-year-old to be held without bond, local media reported. He is due back in court on July 7.
Gendron was targeting Black people, authorities said, when he drove three hours from his home near Binghamton, New York, and shot 13 people with a semi-automatic, assault-style rifle at a Tops store in Buffalo, killing 10 in the May 14 attack.
A grand jury returned an 25-count indictment on Wednesday. The indictment’s first count - domestic terrorism motivated by hate - accuses Gendron of carrying out the attack “because of the perceived race and/or color of such person or persons” injured and killed. The charge carries a penalty of life imprisonment without parole.
Gendron is the first defendant to face a charge based on New York's domestic terrorism hate crime law, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a briefing after the arraignment. The law was proposed after a mass shooting targeting Mexicans at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and took effect Nov. 1, 2020.
Gendron also faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 10 counts of second-degree murder, all of them as hate crimes. The grand jury, which decides whether sufficient evidence exists to bring a defendant to trial, also returned three counts of attempted murder as hate crimes and a single count of illegal possession of a weapon.
"When you hear the phrase, throw the book at someone ... Well, in this case, right here, the defendant just got 'War and Peace,'” Flynn said, referring to the 1,200-page novel by Leo Tolstoy.
The weapons charge stems from the fact that the shooter modified the rifle to carry a larger magazine, Flynn said.
Gendron's attorney told Reuters that he is abiding by the court's gag order and has no comment at this time.
The gunman streamed video of the attack to a social media platform in real time after posting white supremacist material on line showing he had drawn inspiration from previous racially motivated mass killings, authorities have said.
The shooting, along with last week's school massacre in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two teachers dead, has reignited a longstanding national debate over U.S. gun laws.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)