Frank James to Plead Guilty in Brooklyn Subway Shooting

Frank R. James, who was accused of carrying out the worst attack on the New York subway system in years, is expected to plead guilty to terrorism in connection with an April shooting spree on a train in Brooklyn, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Mr. James’s lawyers said in a letter filed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn that he would plead guilty to an 11-count indictment, which charged Mr. James with 10 counts of terrorist attack for each of the 10 people shot in the assault, as well as with a firearms charge. A judge overseeing the case set a Jan. 3 change-of-plea hearing.

On April 12, the authorities said, Mr. James unleashed a barrage of gunfire on an N train during the morning rush hour in Brooklyn. No one was killed, but the attack rattled many in the city and set off a 31-hour manhunt that culminated in Mr. James’s arrest in Manhattan.

The assault — which came as New Yorkers were starting to ease back into weekday commutes suspended by the pandemic — seemed to crystallize several New York crises at once: the vulnerability of the transit system and its riders, gaps in mental health care and the paradoxical ability of a suspect to disappear into a city of millions with hundreds of thousands of cameras. The city seemed to freeze until Mr. James’s arrest.

Mr. James, 63, faces a possible life sentence. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which brought the case, declined to comment.

Lawyers for Mr. James declined to comment. In a brief letter to the court, they wrote that Mr. James, who had earlier entered a not guilty plea, had advised them that he “wishes to schedule a guilty plea.”

Just before 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 12, a man wearing a mask and an orange vest threw two smoke bombs and opened fire on a train car in Sunset Park. Images of smoke-filled train cars and subway platforms slick with blood flooded social media.

In the ensuing chaos, the shooter escaped and disappeared into the city, but he left behind an array of belongings on the train — including a gun, ammunition, bank cards and a key for a U-Haul — and a trail of video surveillance footage across Brooklyn, according to court filings.

The authorities soon identified Mr. James, who appeared to have planned an attack for days. He had reserved and paid for a U-Haul van in Philadelphia the week before and had driven it into Brooklyn before dawn that day. Authorities said he had parked the van in Brooklyn and then entered the subway.

There was no clear motive. Mr. James had in previous weeks posted combative videos on social media, in which he aired grievances about the subway system and other city crime issues. He had a history of arrests in New York and New Jersey and seemed to have lived an itinerant and unsettled life.

For more than a day after the attack, law enforcement combed the city and its surroundings for Mr. James.

He was arrested in the East Village after several people — including Mr. James himself — called the police tip line to report his whereabouts.

Mr. James has been detained since his arrest at a jail in Brooklyn, just blocks from the subway station where the attack took place.

In court filings, Mr. James’s court-appointed lawyers with the Federal Defenders of New York have noted that he has a history of mental illness.

In November, his lawyers filed a motion seeking to have the trial moved to another district, possibly in Illinois, saying it would be impossible for Mr. James to get a fair trial in Brooklyn.

Later that month, Mr. James raised the ire of Judge William F. Kuntz, the judge overseeing the case, when he failed to make a scheduled court appearance. Judge Kuntz authorized U.S. marshals to bring him to court by force, if necessary, telling the court, “This is not a high school prom invitation. It is not his call whether he quote-unquote elects to be here.”

Mr. James appeared in court several hours later.

The announcement of the change of plea came one day after Mr. James’s lawyers requested an adjournment of the trial, which had been set for late February, citing delays in the government’s production of evidence. Judge Kuntz denied the motion.