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Accused NYC Subway Shooter Plans to Plead Guilty to All Charges, Could Get Sentencing Break for ‘Acceptance of Responsibility’: Feds

Frank James

Photos of Frank James included in an FBI affidavit charging him with the Brooklyn subway shooting.

Federal prosecutors say that the accused New York City subway shooter plans to plead guilty on Tuesday to all 11 charges leveled against him in his most recent indictment.

Any one of the first 10 terrorism charges could put Frank James away for life for wounding an equal number of victims who were riding the subway in Brooklyn, New York, but prosecutors contemplated a scenario that could allow for his eventual release from prison.

They signaled, however, that they would recommend a sentence that would effectively incarcerate the 63-year-old for the rest of his life.

“All Necessary Force”

In a 10-page letter filed on Friday — but publicized on Monday — prosecutors explained what the plea would mean for the calculation of James’s sentencing guidelines.

If James “clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility” during his hearing on Tuesday, the government estimates that the sentencing guidelines call for a sentence between 382 to 447 months’ imprisonment — roughly 31 and 37 years behind bars, according to the letter.

That sentencing exposure rises sharply if James does not come clean.

“If the defendant does not clearly demonstrate acceptance of responsibility, the government currently estimates that the guidelines will advise the imposition of a sentence within a total range of 480 months’ to life imprisonment, assuming that the defendant falls within Criminal History Category I,” the letter states.

Though James first signaled his intention to plead guilty in early December, his pre-trial turnabout is hardly guaranteed. In October, James refused to appear in court, prompting U.S. District Judge William Kuntz to order U.S. Marshals to haul him to federal court by force.

Mindful of that precedent, Judge Kuntz issued a similar order on Wednesday for the U.S. Marshals Serves to “use all necessary force” to produce James for his arraignment on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

The 11th count against James accuses him of discharging a firearm in a crime of violence.

“Endangering the Lives of Dozens of People”

In the early morning of April 12, 2022, Jame allegedly opened fire on an N-train car in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn during rush hour. Authorities say that he also set off two smoke grenades on the second car of the Manhattan-bound subway. Nobody died during the attack, and prosecutors say that they found a wealth of evidence connecting him to the crime.

The FBI said that the Glock 17 pistol used in the crime was lawfully purchased in Ohio under the name “Frank Robert James.”

“Marks on the serial number on the firearm appear to reflect that an attempt was made to deface the serial number,” the FBI wrote in an affidavit, which contains a photograph of the weapon.

Frank James's Glock

Frank James’s Glock, per FBI

Authorities discovered that weapon in a bag that they say also contained a plastic container containing gasoline, a torch, a U-Haul key, and multiple bank cards.

A second bag recovered by authorities contained fireworks filled with black-powder spewing explosives, according to the affidavit.

Created to encourage fairness and uniformity in prison terms for similar crimes, the federal sentencing guidelines contain calculations on how harshly to punish defendants for similar conduct based on several categories. Acceptance of responsibility is one factor, along with criminal history, offense level and other categories.

Those calculations, however, are not binding on prosecutors, the probation department or the sentencing judge, and the government already announced its intention to seek an above-guidelines sentence for James.

“In addition, as the government has informed defense counsel, based on the facts and circumstances known to the government at this time, including that the defendant planned his attack for years and fired more than thirty rounds on a crowded subway car endangering the lives of dozens of people, the government intends to seek an above-Guidelines sentence at the time of the defendant’s sentencing,” their letter states.

Read the letter here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."