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NYC subway shooter pleads guilty to all counts

Prosecutors say the attack that injured around two dozen commuters was years in the making.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Nine months after he shot 10 people, Frank Robert James of the Bronx told the court Tuesday that he didn’t intend to kill anyone but knew he might do so by spraying bullets into a crowded subway car during rush hour. 

James confessed as he entered his guilty plea in Brooklyn federal court, where he was also arraigned last month on a superseding indictment that charged him with 10 counts of terrorism on a mass transportation system — one for each person hit with a bullet, identified in court documents by their initials — plus a single count of discharging a firearm during a violent crime. 

“While I was on the train, I started shooting a firearm,” James told the court. “My intention was to cause serious bodily injury to the people on the train, and, although it was not my intention to cause death, I was fully aware of the fact that a death or deaths could occur as a result of my discharging a firearm in such an enclosed space as a subway car.” 

James fired more than 30 shots on the Manhattan-bound N train on April 12, 2022, as it pulled onto the station platform in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. Several children were among roughly two dozen people hospitalized with injuries from bullets, smoke inhalation, shrapnel and panic. 

The shooter had turned himself in to the NYPD after seeing his face on the news but he initially pleaded not guilty. James, 63, said he intends to make a “complete statement expressing my regret” at his sentencing, which is not yet scheduled. He faces up to life in prison. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said the attack was years in the making; James bought a disguise, smoke bombs and ammunition in 2017 and traveled to New York to do a “trial run” on the N train line. 

Satisfied so far with his acceptance of responsibility, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz II to impose a sentence between 382 and 447 months, and said they could have proved in court that James had in fact intended to kill passengers, including because he set off a smoke canister that sent commuters running to one end of the train where they became easier targets. 

Winik said victim testimony, DNA evidence, ballistic evidence and electronic evidence would prove James’ intent to kill. That would tee up higher sentencing guidelines than the 198 to 217 months for aggravated assault that James’ attorneys calculated, based in part on medical records for six victims that amount to “serious bodily injury,” according to attorney Mia Eisner-Grynberg from the Federal Defenders of New York.

"Mr. James has accepted responsibility for his crimes since he turned himself in to law enforcement. A just sentence in this case will carefully balance the harm he caused with his age, his health, and the Bureau of Prisons’ notoriously inadequate medical care,” Eisner-Grynberg and her colleague Amanda David wrote in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, as the government just stated, even a sentence that would vastly exceed Mr. James’s natural life is not enough for them. Their requested punishment serves no legitimate sentencing purpose."

After the shooting, it came to light that James posted hourlong, rambling videos on his now-deactivated YouTube account, ranting in some about New York City Mayor Eric Adams, politics and violence. In one, titled “DOMESTICATED AVERAGES,” he talks about becoming violent himself. 

“I’ve been through a lot of shit. I can say I wanted to kill people. I wanted to watch people die right in my fucking face,” James says. “But … I don’t want to go to fucking prison.”

Federal agents say James carried out the attack with a Glock 17 9mm pistol, which they later found in a bag near the scene. One of the shooting victims, Ilene Steur, sued the gunmaker last year for selling more firearms than a legitimate market could handle, feeding a secondary market, while touting high capacity and easily concealable weapons — thus attracting customers who intended to use the guns with “criminal intent.” 

New York Attorney General Letitia James joined the lawsuit to defend a state law aimed at regulating gun sales manufacturing and marketing, imposing civil liabilities on manufacturers for criminal acts involving their guns manufactured and sold out-of-state. 

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said that James’ plea “acknowledges the terror and pain he caused.” 

“Frank James cold-bloodedly shot innocent New Yorkers traveling on the subway in Brooklyn, and brought terror to our great city. James’s crimes of violence have been met with swift justice,” Peace said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

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