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Charged with terrorism, subway shooting suspect kept in jail

The defense attorney for Frank James cautioned against any rush to judgment: "We are all still learning about what happened on that train."

BROOKLYN (CN) — The man accused of shooting 10 New Yorkers on the subway and inciting a panic that injured nearly two dozen more, appeared in Brooklyn federal court Thursday, where his attorneys consented to his remaining in jail for the time being. 

New York City Police Department officers arrested Frank Robert James in Manhattan’s East Village on Wednesday after a tip was called into the Crime Stoppers hotline — by James himself. 

At 12:45 p.m. this afternoon, James entered the courtroom wearing a khaki shirt and pants, without handcuffs. He put on glasses as he sat down and passed notes back and forth with one of his attorneys during the hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann. 

The 62-year-old faces one count of terrorism on a mass transportation system, and could spend life in prison if convicted. 

“The defendant, terrifyingly, opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this city hasn't seen in more than 20 years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said at Thursday’s hearing. 

Though James’ attorneys weren’t ready to offer a bail package and did not fight the government’s bid for pretrial detention, Winik asked to be heard in court regarding the reasons for continuing to detain James.  

“The defendant's attack was premeditated, it was carefully planned, and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city,” Winik said. “The defendant's mere presence outside federal custody presents a serious risk of danger to the community and he should be detained pending trial.”

James is represented by Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Deirdre von Dornum of the Federal Defenders of New York. During his stay at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Eisner-Grynberg asked that he get a psychiatric evaluation and that he’s provided with magnesium, which he takes for leg cramps. 

Eisner-Grynberg spoke to a crowd of reporters and news cameras waiting in the summer-like day outside the Eastern District of New York courthouse. 

“What happened in the New York City subway system on Tuesday was a tragedy. It is a blessing that it was not worse,” Eisner-Grynberg said. 

“We are all still learning about what happened on that train, and we caution against a rush to judgment,” she continued. “What we do know is this: Yesterday, Mr. James saw his photograph on the news. He called Crime Stoppers to help. He told them where he was.”

The statement confirmed news reports that it was James who turned himself in. 

Police landed on James as their suspect late Tuesday, saying he set off a smoke canister in a subway car of a Manhattan-bound N train before firing 33 shots at passengers as it pulled onto the station platform in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. Several children were among the victims of the morning rush-hour attack, which sent local schools into shelter-in-place mode until mid-afternoon. 

A search of properties associated with James in Pennsylvania turned up 9-millimeter ammunition; a threaded 9-millimeter pistol barrel, to which a silencer can attach; and ammunition used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Law enforcement officers also found a stun gun, high-capacity rifle magazine and blue smoke canister, according to the complaint. 

Two blocks from a subway stop in Brooklyn, officers tracked down the U-Haul and found a jacket with reflective tape that matched the one prosecutors say James is wearing in a surveillance video.

The complaint against Frank James includes this still from surveillance video shot at West Seventh Street and Kings Highway in Brooklyn, New York, at 6:12 a.m. on April 12, 2022. Encircled in red is an individual wearing a yellow hard hat and orange working jacket with reflective tape, using one arm to carry a backpack and another to drag a rolling bag. (Department of Justice via Courthouse News)

The government’s detention memo called the attack “extraordinarily serious.” 

“The victims who boarded the defendant’s subway car on the morning of April 12 could not have predicted the horror that would await them on their morning commute,” the 6-page memo states. “[The defendant] fired approximately 33 rounds in cold blood at terrified passengers who had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.” 

After the shooting, it came to light that James posted hourlong, rambling videos on his now-deactivated YouTube account, ranting about New York City Mayor Eric Adams, politics and violence, and sometimes going on racist tangents. In one, he calls the Sept. 22, 2001, terrorist attacks “beautiful.” In another, he gives instructions for creating a Molotov cocktail.

James also talks about suffering from mental health crises and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said his office is ready to prove its case in court. 

“As alleged, the defendant committed a heinous and premeditated attack on ordinary New Yorkers during their morning subway commute,” the prosecutor said in a statement. “All New Yorkers have the right to expect that they will be safe as they travel throughout our great city and use our vital transportation systems.” 

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