NYC Subway Gunman Gets Life in Prison for Rush Hour Attack

The New York man who tossed smoke grenades into a packed Brooklyn subway car, then opened fire with a handgun during a morning rush hour attack last year, was ordered to serve 10 life sentences in prison plus 10 extra years.

(Bloomberg) — The New York man who tossed smoke grenades into a packed Brooklyn subway car, then opened fire with a handgun during a morning rush hour attack last year, was ordered to serve 10 life sentences in prison plus 10 extra years.

Frank James, 64, was sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn federal court after pleading guilty in January to 10 counts of terrorism and a gun charge. Prosecutors said he deserved 10 consecutive life sentences for the 10 people he wounded, while his lawyer sought leniency, saying James suffered from untreated mental illness.

Surveillance cameras caught James entering the subway system in Brooklyn on the morning of the April 12, 2022, attack, dressed as a maintenance worker, according to the government. After boarding a Manhattan-bound N train in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, witnesses said, he donned a gas mask before tossing two smoke cannisters into the crowded car and opening fire with a semi-automatic Glock pistol.

He then shed his disguise and escaped, only to be apprehended after a 30-hour manhunt.  

“Only one man got on” that subway car with a gun that day, US District Judge William Kuntz told James as he imposed the sentence. “The law will not tolerate that.”

‘Broken and Damaged’

James, wearing a beige prison jumpsuit, spoke for about 20 minutes before his sentence was pronounced. He compared himself to Jordan Neely, the homeless Black man who was shouting at subway passengers and killed in May when a White rider placed him in a chokehold. He said he, like Neely, was mentally ill, “broken and damaged,” and needed help, and that he was a victim of racism.

“I wish to extend my apologies to the victims,” James said, adding, “People who ride the subway should feel safe. They should not have to worry about the possibility of being attacked.”

The attack came as New York was already struggling to cope with both a rise in shootings citywide and an increase in crime in the subway system, which saw ridership plummet during the pandemic. Last year a 25-year-old man was charged in what police call an unprovoked fatal shooting of Daniel Enriquez, 48, who worked in Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Global Investment Research division, while he was riding the subway to Sunday brunch.

James deserved a severe sentence for engaging in “careful and prolonged planning” for the attack, prosecutors Sara Winik and Ellen Sise told the judge Thursday. He not only disguised himself to look like a transit worker but also created a “kill funnel” to shoot at his victims where they couldn’t escape, according to the government. In addition to the people wounded when James fired 33 shots into the subway car, 13 others were injured in the ensuing panic.

Police later found James had also armed himself with an ax and, after fleeing the train, left behind his bank card, mobile phone, a bag of fireworks soaked in gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van he rented to drive from Philadelphia to New York to carry out the attack, according to the US. 

Videos on YouTube

James had posted videos on YouTube, including one in he which complained about the number of homeless people on the city’s subway system. 

“I should have gotten a gun and just started shooting,” he said.

Defense lawyer Mia Eisner-Grynberg had asked the judge to take into account that James was “tormented by a lifelong paranoid schizophrenia” that had never been treated and “snapped” the day of the attack. She asked for a sentence of 16 1/2 to 18 years in prison. 

Eisner-Grynberg said that given his age and health, James wouldn’t survive in federal prison. 

“Mr. James is not evil,” she said. “He is very, very ill.”

‘Something Terribly Evil’

During an almost three-hour hearing, the judge heard from five victims, three who spoke in person and two whose letters were read aloud by a prosecutor. One man who fell during the melee said he was crushed by other injured passengers as they fell on him after being struck by the hail of bullets.

Another, identified only by his initials, LC, said he and family members all work for the New York City transit system. He described how James turned his morning commute into a horror, and turned to confront James, who was staring straight ahead, not looking at the victims. 

“Do you understand the turmoil you put this 51-year-old man through?” he said. “You did something terribly evil. Your mother would be ashamed of you. You could have found help. I found help. Why couldn’t you?”

James’s lawyers have said they will appeal the sentence.

The case is US v. James, 22-cr-214, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). 

(Updates with comments by victims. An earlier version of this story corrected the number of people injured in the panic.)

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