UPDATE: An assailant who opened fire on a packed New York City subway train last year, wounding 10 commuters and igniting underground terror, admitted on Tuesday, Jan. 3 that he intended to cause mass harm.
No one was killed in the horrific attack by Frank James, 63, which left victims strewn across a smoky 36th Street platform in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn at the height of the April 12 morning rush.
Rather than risk the consequences of a guilty verdict at a jury trial, James took a deal from prosecutors.
The heavyset and balding domestic terrorist -- who'd dubbed himself the “Prophet of Doom" in an online post -- pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn on Tuesday to 10 counts of committing an attack or other violence against a mass transportation system.
James had been raised in the Bronx and lived in several cities -- Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, Chicago and Milwaukee, among them. He already had a criminal record in New Jersey and New York, authorities said at the time.
He'd also posted several social media videos in the weeks before the shooting about authorities' inability to handle crime in the New York City subway system.
James reached Brooklyn that fateful morning in a rented U-Haul van after staying at an Airbnb in Philadelphia, federal authorities said.
He boarded the N train bound for Manhattan at the Kings Highway station with a Glock 17 pistol he legally purchased in Ohio, a smoke bomb and a gas mask, they said at the time.
James had disguised himself in an orange reflective jacket and yellow hard hat to look like a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employee.
He ignited the smoke bomb somewhere between the 59th and 36th street stations, they said.
James then donned the mask and started shooting at the riders who'd huddled together at the other end of the subway car.
James unloaded nearly three dozen bullets in what became one of the worst attacks on a city subway in years. Then he fled the scene.
James has claimed that he didn't intend to kill anyone, a contention that federal prosecutors vehemently disputed.
“The government would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [James] fired with the intent to kill,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik told Judge William F. Kuntz. “[James] intended to inflict maximum damage at the height of rush hour.”
For his part, James told a U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday that his intent was to "cause serious bodily injury to the people on the train."
James was captured in the East Village in Manhattan, ending a 31-hour manhunt, after several people -- himself, among them -- called Crime Stoppers.
Law enforcement officers also seized ammo and weapons parts -- including a threaded 9mm pistol barrel made for silencers -- a high-capacity rifle magazine, a Taser and a blue smoke cannister.
“The victims of this reprehensible attack deserved and received justice,” MTA Communications Director Tim Minton said Tuesday. “We hope this perpetrator will never again be free to hurt innocent people.”
Breon S. Peace, who's the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said he hoped the outcome served multiple purposes.
“James’s crimes of violence have been met with swift justice,” he said. “This guilty plea is an important step towards holding James fully accountable and helping the victims of the defendant’s violence and our great city heal.”
“As described in court filings, the defendant set off a smoke bomb in a New York City subway car and then fired a handgun more than 30 times, striking ten innocent passengers,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland added. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that the Justice Department will work relentlessly to hold accountable those who engage in mass violence and terrorize our communities.”
James faces possible life in federal prison -- which doesn't have parole -- although that's can't be certain given the many variables in U.S. sentencing guidelines.
He's most likely looking at a minimum of 32 years given what appears to be his fully accepting responsibility, prosecutors contended. It would be 40 years to life if he didn't, they said.
His defense lawyers, who said James suffers from a mental illness, countered that the range should be roughly 16½ to 19 years under the guidelines.
James “has accepted responsibility for his crimes since he turned himself in to law enforcement," public defenders Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Amanda David said in a joint statement after the plea hearing.
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