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Frank James to Plead Guilty to Terrorism in Brooklyn Subway Attack

Frank R. James, who is charged with shooting 10 people last April in one of the worst attacks in recent years on the New York subway, is expected to plead guilty to terrorism on Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Brooklyn, according to court records.

Mr. James, 63, had initially entered a not guilty plea, but his court-appointed lawyers from the Federal Defenders of New York said last month that he would plead guilty to an 11-count indictment that charged him with 10 counts of terrorist attack — one for each of the 10 people struck in the subway shooting — as well as with a firearms charge.

He faces a possible life sentence.

Lawyers for Mr. James did not respond to messages on Monday.

During the morning rush last April 12, the authorities said, Mr. James opened fire on an N train in Brooklyn.

No one was killed, but the attack set off a 31-hour manhunt, unnerving New Yorkers as law enforcement combed the city looking for Mr. James. The police finally seized him in the East Village in Manhattan after several people — including Mr. James himself — called the police tip line to report his whereabouts.

The shooting spree, which came as subway ridership had begun to tick up after plummeting during the pandemic, once again underscored the vulnerability of the transit system, and New Yorkers’ concerns over crime and safety. It also put a spotlight on the city’s gap in mental health care.

New York’s Mental Illness Policy

After a series of high-profile crimes involving homeless New Yorkers, the city said it would take aggressive measures.

  • A New Policy: Mayor Eric Adams announced an effort to remove people with severe, untreated mental illness from the city’s streets and subways. Here is what to know about the plan.
  • Behind the Shift: The mayor’s advisor on severe mental illness, Brian Stettin, worked for over a decade with a psychiatrist who has called for mandatory outpatient treatment for people who have a history of refusing medication.
  • Involving Police: The policy will test an already tense relationship between mentally ill people and the N.Y.P.D.
  • The Pushback: Advocates for the homeless and mentally ill and other politicians said the policy would face legal challenges and would not address the root causes of the problems, including a lack of housing.

Mr. James, who has been detained since his arrest at a jail in Brooklyn near the subway station where the attack took place, has a history of mental illness, according to his lawyers.

He grew up in the Bronx, but had largely grown apart from his family, moving to but never settling in a number of cities, including Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago and Milwaukee. He had a history of arrests in New York and New Jersey.

In the weeks before the shooting, Mr. James had posted combative videos on social media, in which he ranted about the city’s subway system and its approach to crime. But there was no clear motive for the subway attack, according to the authorities.

Mr. James had reserved and paid for a U-Haul van in Philadelphia the week before the attack, according to the authorities, driving it into Brooklyn before dawn that day and parking it there before entering the subway system.

On the day of the shooting, according to surveillance footage, a man wearing a mask and an orange vest threw two smoke bombs into a train car before firing at passengers.

In the mayhem that followed, the gunman fled, but left a number of items behind on the train, including a gun, ammunition, bank cards and a key to the U-Haul, according to court filings.

In November, Mr. James’s lawyers filed a motion to have his trial moved outside of New York, possibly to Illinois, on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial in Brooklyn.

Also that month, Mr. James missed a scheduled court appearance, angering the judge overseeing the case.

“This is not a high school prom invitation,” Judge William F. Kuntz told the court. “It is not his call whether he quote-unquote elects to be here.”

Judge Kuntz cited the incident in an order he posted last week authorizing U.S. Marshals to “use all necessary force to produce” Mr. James in court on Tuesday, should he refuse to appear.

Rebecca Davis O’Brien contributed reporting.

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