Brooklyn subway attack suspect ordered held without bail
New York – The man charged with opening fire on subway riders on a train in Brooklyn was ordered held without bail Thursday at his first court appearance, where prosecutors told a judge he terrified all of New York City.
Brought into a Brooklyn federal court without handcuffs, a subdued Frank James, 62, softly answered standard questions about whether he understood the charges and the purpose of the brief hearing. His lawyer later asked the public not to prejudge him.
James was arrested in Manhattan after calling a police tip line to say where he was Wednesday, a day after the nightmarish rush-hour attack left 10 people with gunshot wounds and countless others fearing for their safety on the nation’s busiest subway system.
Authorities say he unleashed smoke bombs and dozens of bullets, in a train full of morning commuters. He’s charged with a federal terrorism offense that applies to attacks on mass transit systems – authorities say there’s currently no evidence linking him to terror organizations and are still trying to derive a motive.
“The defendant terrifyingly opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way the city hasn’t seen in more than 20 years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara K. Winik said. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city.”
The 10 gunshot victims, who range in age from 16 to 60, are all expected to survive.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Mia Eisner-Grynberg cautioned against “a rush to judgment.”
“Initial reports in a case like this are often inaccurate,” she said. She noted that James alerted police to his whereabouts, 30 hours into a manhunt that included cellphone alerts to the general public.
Once he knew he was wanted, “he called Crime Stoppers to help,” Eisner-Grynberg said.
She had agreed to his being held without bail, at least for now. His attorneys could seek bail later on.
At the request of James’ lawyers, Magistrate Roanne Mann said she would ask for James to get “psychiatric attention,” as well as magnesium tablets for leg cramps, at the federal lockup in Brooklyn where he’s being held.
Authorities say a trove of evidence connects James to the attack. His bank card, his cellphone and a key to a van he had rented were found at the shooting scene. Officers also found the handgun they said was used in the shooting; tracing records show James purchased the gun from a licensed gun dealer in Ohio in 2011.
In court papers, prosecutors called the shooting calculated, saying that James wore a hard hat and construction worker-style jacket as a disguise and then shed them after the gunfire to avoid recognition. Prosecutors suggested James had the means to carry out more more attacks, noting that he had ammunition and other gun-related items in a Philadelphia storage unit.
The New York City native had been living in Milwaukee and Philadelphia recently.
Investigators were examining many hours of videos that James posted on social media, as recently as Monday, in which he delivered profanity-laced diatribes about racism, society’s treatment of Black people, homelessness and violence. He also discussed his history of psychiatric treatment and complained about how New York’s mayor is dealing with homeless people on subways and with gun violence.
He also talked about shooting people, prosecutors noted in court papers.
Associated Press journalists Jim Mustian, Michael R. Sisak and Jennifer Peltz contributed.