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Accused Buffalo killer enters not guilty plea

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The 18-year-old man accused of killing 10 Black people at a Buffalo grocery store was in court today. He entered a not guilty plea on charges of domestic terrorism and first-degree murder. Michael Mroziak of member station WBFO was in court today for that arraignment. He joins us now. Welcome.

MICHAEL MROZIAK, BYLINE: Good afternoon. Thank you.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. So can you just first tell us a little more about this domestic terrorism charge?

MROZIAK: Well, this is a relatively new statute in New York state. It's only been on the books for about two years. And this case is the first that will apply those statutes. A conviction on first-degree domestic terror as a hate crime could mean automatic life in prison upon a conviction. And that's just one of 25 counts. There are also 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three attempted murder counts for those that were shot and wounded and also a criminal weapons possession count. The district attorney in this case says although the gun used in this shooting was legally acquired, it was illegally modified. And that's where that charge applies.

CHANG: OK. And I know that the defendant, he appeared in person in court today. What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom? Can you talk more about that?

MROZIAK: There was a feeling of tension. There was a higher than usual number of officers and security. There were many family members of the victims in attendance. I could not see from my vantage point if any of the shooter's family members were in the court, but there were definitely family members of those killed on May 14. And at the end of the proceedings, one of the women in attendance was overcome with emotion, she could be heard loudly sobbing. Masks are still required in the courtroom, so you couldn't really understand what it was she was saying while sobbing. And also with those masks on, while the accused is - was in an orange uniform, he was still covered with a mask. So all you could see his eyes. You couldn't really see any facial expressions during the proceedings.

CHANG: Well, this mass shooting, you know, it happened just a couple weeks ago. And, of course, the country's already seen several other mass shootings since then. How are people in Buffalo holding up, as you've been talking to them these past several days?

MROZIAK: They are still hurting. There's still a mix of hurt, of anger, of frustration and, of course, further exacerbated by the fact that other mass shootings have happened since. The last of the funerals of the victims only occurred only over the Memorial holiday weekend. So Buffalo is just finally getting to bury their dead and only really now - when the shootings happened, there was a large swarm of national media who came in. And once they had left, only then did the community really get a chance to really begin to mourn and begin to process what was going on, to finally be able to grieve the losses that have hit their community.

There are further complications. The supermarket where this attack occurred is the only full large supermarket in that neighborhood for many, many blocks around. And as long as that supermarket remains closed, that was the only source of fresh produce, of baby items and other critical needs for many people in that neighborhood. And as long as that supermarket remains closed, that further complicates what's already a reputed food desert in an east side neighborhood in the city of Buffalo.

CHANG: That is Michael Mroziak of member station WBFO in Buffalo, N.Y. Thank you so much, Michael.

MROZIAK: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Mroziak