Frank James, who opened fire on a crowded New York City subway train last April and injured 10 people, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to terrorism charges.
After initially pleading not guilty last May, James, 62, pleaded guilty Tuesday to 10 counts — one for each shooting victim — of committing a terrorist attack and other violence against a mass transit system and a vehicle which carried passengers and employees. He also pleaded guilty to one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
James’ plea comes nearly nine months after prosecutors say he donned a gas mask, activated a smoke device and fired a gun at least 33 times on a crowded N train heading into the station. 36th Street in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood on April 12. Along with the 10 people injured by gunfire, others were injured by the smoke. In total, 29 people were hospitalized.
“My intention was to cause grievous bodily harm to the people on the train,” James told the court. “Although it was not my intention to cause death, I was aware 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 is expected to be sentenced at a later date. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors are willing to recommend a sentence of 31 to 37 years in prison if James shows enough remorse, according to a letter from Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District from New. York, to District Court Judge William Kuntz.
If James “does not clearly demonstrate acceptance of responsibility,” prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 40 years to life in prison, according to the letter.
The shooting shook the city, which was already on edge when commuters began returning to the subway after the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the injured, Hourari Benkada, 27, said he was riding the N train and sat next to a man wearing a duffel bag and reflective vest who threw a “smoke bomb.”
“And all you see (is) smoke — black smoke … that goes out, and then people just fall to the back,” Benkada said. “This pregnant woman was in front of me. I was trying to help her. At first I didn’t know there were any shots. I just thought it was a black smoke bomb.
“She said, ‘I’m pregnant with a baby.’ I hugged her. And then the pushing continued. They pushed me and that’s when they shot me in the back of the knee.”
James was arrested a day later on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after calling himself. Investigators tied James to items they left behind at the scene, including a credit card, a set of keys, a construction jacket and a gun.
The defendant has a long criminal record and had posted rambling videos on a YouTube channel in which he talked about violence and mass shootings, and said he was thinking about killing people who allegedly hurt him.
In a post just a day before the shootings, James talked about someone who turned to violence and ended up in prison. He said he could identify but talked about the consequences.
“I’ve been through a lot of things, where I can say I wanted to kill people. I wanted to see people die in front of my king face immediately. But I thought about the fact that, man, I don’t want to go to no king’s prison “.
In another video released in February criticizing New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to address subway safety and homelessness, James spoke about his negative experience with city health workers during a “mental health crisis in the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s.” .”