NEW YORK (AP) — A man who sprayed bullets into a New York City subway car during rush hour, injuring 10 people and sparking a citywide manhunt, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday.
Frank James, 64, pleaded guilty earlier this year on terrorism charges in the mass shooting on a Manhattan-bound train on April 12, 2022. He received a life sentence on ten counts and ten years on the eleventh count.
Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, saying James carefully planned the shooting for years to “cause maximum damage.”
James’ lawyers had asked for a reduced sentence of 18 years, saying he had no intention of killing anyone and suffered from serious mental illness.
Before the verdict was announced, three people who were present at the time of the attack spoke in court.
Fatim Gjeloshi, 21, who escaped the shooting unharmed, approached the microphone to recount the morning of the shooting and said he had forgiven James, but then he paused and burst into tears. “I can’t do that,” he said and left the courtroom.
Also given the opportunity to speak, James criticized the country’s mental health system and social safety net, saying the system has failed him and others struggling with mental illness and poverty.
On the day of the attack, James was disguised as a construction worker and waited until the train was between stations to deny his targets the chance to escape. He then set off several smoke bombs and fired a barrage of bullets from a 9mm handgun at panicked passengers in the crowded train car.
Victims ranging in age from 16 to 60 were injured in the attack, which occurred as the train pulled into a station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
While rescue workers attended to the victims, James calmly left the subway station and disappeared. Authorities searched for him for more than a day. They identified James as a suspect relatively quickly using a key to a rented moving truck that was left in the blood-stained subway car. He was eventually arrested in Manhattan’s East Village after calling police to turn himself in.
“The fact that no one was killed by the defendant’s 32 shots can only be described as luck and not as an intentional decision by the defendant,” Brooklyn prosecutors wrote in a memo to U.S. District Judge William Kuntz.
The attack stunned New Yorkers. increased anxiety about security on the transit system and prompted local officials to install additional surveillance cameras and police on the trains.
Before the shooting, James, who is Black, posted dozens of videos online under the moniker “Prophet of Doom” in which he railed against race, violence, his struggles with mental illness and a series of unnamed forces he claimed to have at his disposal him apart.
In a 2019 video, James alluded to an impending conflict in his hometown, declaring, “It will be very interesting to see what happens to me in New York.” By that time, prosecutors allege, James was already in the process of to plan the shooting in the subway.
When James pleaded guilty to terrorism charges earlier this year, he said he only intended to cause serious bodily harm, not death.
His lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, suggested that while James originally planned to kill people, he changed his mind in the heat of the moment.
“In a society where we unfortunately learn almost every day that mass shooters intent on killing easily achieve their goals, it is far more likely that Mr. James did not have that specific intent than that he simply failed in his mission “Eisner-Grynberg wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Referring to the defendant’s abusive childhood in the Bronx and his ongoing struggles with both alcoholism and paranoid schizophrenia, she added: “Mr. James isn’t evil. He is very, very sick.”
But prosecutors said the trajectory of the bullets showed James was targeting the “center mass” of the drivers for maximum lethality. They said James only stopped firing his Glock semi-automatic pistol because the gun jammed.
James has been held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center for the past 17 months.