Nearly a year and a half after Frank James opened fire in a Brooklyn subway, injuring 10 people, he has been sentenced to 10 life-in-prison sentences — one for each of his victims. The New York Times reports that James, age 64, also received an additional 10 years on his sentence for a gun charge. Prosecutors Sara Winik and Ellen Sise had requested the extra sentence, saying James had carried out “careful and prolonged planning” for his attack.
The life sentences will run concurrently while the additional 10 years will run consecutively.
Judge William F. Kuntz II, who sentenced James, noted in an order on Tuesday that James had been uncooperative, refusing to attend hearings and requiring “all necessary force” from federal marshals to bring him to court.
“Today’s life sentence delivered the necessary penalty for Frank James, who callously carried out a mass shooting on a crowded subway car, attempting to kill innocent people, and spilling much blood,” United States Attorney Breon Peace. “He wounded 10 victims in his calculated attack and terrorized many more. I hope that this sentence brings some closure to the many victims of this violent attack and comfort to the city at large in knowing that justice was done.”
James, who referred to himself as a “Prophet of Doom,” pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges in January for the shooting. His plea did not come with an agreement. On April 12, 2022, the shooter traveled from Philadelphia to Brooklyn to carry out the attack. He dressed as a construction worker and released smoke bombs in the car, firing approximately 32 rounds with a Glock 17 pistol, which he’d purchased legally, at the passengers who had tried to avoid the smoke. Passengers who were not shot suffered from smoke inhalation and mental and physical injuries.
“The defendant used a semi-automatic gun with an extended magazine and was able to fire bullets in rapid succession without taking time to reload,” a Department of Justice memo, signed by Peace to Judge Kuntz said. “Each bullet the defendant fired, however, required an individual trigger pull. Therefore, the defendant chose to shoot 32 separate times at his defenseless victims.” Eventually his gun jammed and he stopped shooting.
His victims ranged in age from 16 to 60. He fled the scene, leading to a 30-hour manhunt. A high school student spotted him on a park bench and called the police tipline. The Associated Press reported in January that in his plea, James claimed his intention was only to injure people, not kill them.
The shooter was indicted on 11 counts, including 10 counts of terrorism — one for each victim. The other charge was for using a firearm during a violent crime. The latter carried a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence in prison; the terror charges had maximum sentences of life in prison. His prosecutors believed that he should serve only 18 years. James originally pleaded not guilty to the charges last May before changing his mind in December.
“The government respectfully submits that a sentence of life plus the mandatory 120 months’ imprisonment is necessary to reflect the seriousness of the defendant’s offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment,” the DOJ’s letter to Judge Kuntz said. “As discussed above, the defendant targeted innocent people. Miraculously, no one died from the defendant’s actions. But the mental and physical impact on the victims continues to this day. To adequately punish the defendant’s senseless violence that changed the course of dozens of people’s lives, a serious punishment is necessary.” The DOJ also asked the judge to grant two of James’ victims around $3,000 each in restitution.
The DOJ’s letter to Judge Kuntz detailed how James carefully planned the attack, contradicting his claims that he had snapped. It claimed that he made several trips to New York for “practice runs.”
Prior to the attack, James made several YouTubes criticizing New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ subway safety plan. “He can’t stop no fucking crime in no subways,” James said in one video. “He may slow it down, but he ain’t stopping shit.” In others, he disparaged Black, white, Latino, and Jewish people. In one video, he called a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas a “cautionary tale.” “I’ve had those thoughts and feelings,” he said. He also talked in some videos about his struggles with mental illness. His user names online included variations on “Prophet of Doom” and “Prophet of Truth.”
James’ court-appointed attorney, Mia Eisner-Grynberg of the Federal Defenders, asked Judge Kuntz for leniency, claiming James was “tormented by lifelong paranoid schizophrenia,” according to the Times, and that he wouldn’t receive proper mental healthcare in prison.
“It’s going to be a long case,” James told The Associated Press last August, before changing his plea. “People don’t have enough information yet to judge me… All in all I’m a good person at heart. I’ve never hurt anybody.”
“Today, Frank James was rightfully sentenced for his deliberate and calculated act of terror against our city,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge James Smith said in a statement after the sentencing was announced. “He aimed to kill innocent people, who were simply going about their daily lives amid the morning rush. It is because of the dogged determination and vigilance of the investigators of the FBI New York’s Joint Terrorism Task force that James was brought to justice and is facing the consequences he rightfully deserves.”
“Today’s outcome hopefully brings solace to the many victims of Mr. James, who carried out a horrifying act of terrorism in a cold, calculated, premeditated manner,” NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban said. “From the moment Mr. James committed this appalling crime, we and our law enforcement partners shrank his world until he had nowhere to turn – and the people of New York City worked alongside us. In addition to our colleagues at the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, I thank and commend New Yorkers for their vigilance in helping bring this unseemly episode to a just conclusion.”
The Times reports that Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul intend to install more cameras in subway stations and to add them inside subway cars.