Brooklyn subway gunman who shot 10 people in 2022 attack sentenced to life in prison

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NEW YORK (AP) — A man who sprayed a New York City subway car with bullets during rush hour, wounding 10 people and sparking a citywide manhunt, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison after several of his victims tearfully and angrily recounted their ongoing trauma.

Frank James, 64, pleaded guilty earlier this year to terrorism charges in the April 12, 2022, mass shooting aboard a Manhattan-bound train. He received a life sentence on 10 counts and 10 years for an 11th count for discharging a firearm during an act of violence.

Three of his victims spoke in court of the physical and emotional pain they continue to experience more than a year after the bloody attack in a packed subway car.

“I have not been able to make sense of it,” said a young man identified as B.K. At times his voice cracked as he spoke and his eyes turned glassy from tears.

Another victim, a 51-year-old man identified as L.C., told the court he had post traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide.

L.C., who said he worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the time of the shooting, bought an e-bike to avoid riding trains. When he regained his confidence and returned to the subway, he was forced to relive the horror of the shooting when he saw a man wearing a vest similar to the one James had worn.

“I immediately thought of you, Frank James,” the victim said, his voice booming with anger.

Another victim, who later identified himself outside the courthouse as Fatim Gjelosh, 21, began to share his own story with words of forgiveness — “I don’t blame him. He needs help.” — before breaking into tears and sobs.

“I can’t do this,” he said, before walking out of the court. He later returned to hear the judge sentence James.

During his own 15-minute address to the court, James expressed contrition for his actions but criticized the country’s mental health system, saying it had failed especially people of color like him.

U.S. District Court Judge William Kuntz of Federal District Court was unconvinced, telling James that what he did was “pure evil.”

Prosecutors had asked for the life sentence, saying James spent years carefully planning the shooting in order to “inflict maximum damage.”

James’ attorneys had asked for a reduced sentence of 18 years, saying he didn’t intend to kill anyone and citing his mental illness.

Disguised as a construction worker on the day of the shooting last year, James waited until the train was between stations, denying his targets a chance to flee. Then he ignited multiple smoke bombs and unleashed a barrage of bullets from a 9 mm handgun at panicked riders in the crowded train car.

The attack, carried out as the train pulled into a station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, wounded victims ranging in age from 16 to 60.

As emergency responders tended to the victims, James walked calmly out of the subway station and vanished. Authorities searched for him for more than a day. They identified James as a suspect relatively quickly, using a key to a rented moving van left behind on the bloodied subway car. He was eventually arrested in Manhattan’s East Village after calling a police tip line to turn himself in.

WATCH: Police arrest man accused of shooting 10 in Brooklyn subway attack

“The fact that no one was killed by the defendant’s 32 gunshots can only be described as luck as opposed to the defendant’s intentional choice,” Brooklyn prosecutors wrote in a memo to U.S. District Judge William Kuntz.

The attack stunned New Yorkers, heightened anxiety about safety in the transit system and prompted local officials to add additional surveillance cameras and police to the trains.

Before the shooting, James, who is Black, posted dozens of videos online under the moniker “Prophet of Doom,” ranting about race, violence, his struggles with mental illness and a host of unnamed forces he claimed were out to get him.

In one 2019 video, James alluded to a pending conflict in his hometown, stating that “it’s going to be very interesting what happens in New York with me.” By that time, prosecutors allege, James was already in the process of planning the subway shooting.

When James pleaded guilty to the terrorism charges earlier this year, he said he only intended to cause serious bodily injury, not death.

His attorney, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, suggested that while James may have initially planned to kill people, he changed his mind in the heat of the moment.

“In a society where, sadly, we learn nearly every day that mass shooters who intend to kill readily achieve their goals, it is far more likely that Mr. James lacked that specific intent than that he simply failed in his mission,” Eisner-Grynberg wrote in a sentencing memo.

Referencing the defendant’s abusive childhood in the Bronx and his ongoing struggles with both alcoholism and paranoid schizophrenia, she added, “Mr. James is not evil. He is very, very ill.”

Prosecutors, however, said the trajectory of the bullets showed that James aimed at the “center mass” of riders for maximum lethality. They said James only stopped firing his semi-automatic Glock pistol because the gun jammed.

James has been held without bail for the past 17 months at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

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