Police recovered several of James’s possessions at the scene of the attack, including a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, three extended Glock-type magazines, a hatchet, bullets and bullet fragments, two detonated and two undetonated smoke grenades, gasoline, and fireworks.
In YouTube videos prior to the attack, James, who is Black, went on racist and derogatory rants against Black people and other people of color. He also complained about the presence of unhoused people on the subway and criticized NYC mayor Eric Adams’s policies. In one video, he called 9/11 “the most beautiful day in the history of this country.” According to federal prosecutors, James’s videos also referenced conspiracy theories and threatened violence, at one point saying he “should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting motherfuckers.”
New York City employs about 36,000 police officers, 3,500 of which are assigned to the NYPD’s transit bureau, AM New York reported less than three months before the shooting. In spite of this, according to the New York Times, no officers were present at the Sunset Park station at the time of the shooting, though they had patrolled the station earlier that morning. Authorities also said that the station’s security camera had been malfunctioning.
In a letter to the judge on Thursday, federal prosecutors recommended James be sentenced to 31 to 37 years in prison — or, if he “does not clearly demonstrate acceptance of responsibility,” 40 years to life.
In a statement following his guilty plea, Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Amanda David, the public defenders representing James, hit back against the sentencing recommendation, arguing that the government’s “requested punishment serves no legitimate sentencing purpose.”
“Mr. James has accepted responsibility for his crimes since he turned himself in to law enforcement,” they said. “A just sentence in this case will carefully balance the harm he caused with his age, his health, and the Bureau of Prisons’ notoriously inadequate medical care. Unfortunately, as the government just stated, even a sentence that would vastly exceed Mr. James’s natural life is not enough for them.”
In his first court appearance days after the shooting, James was ordered to remain in jail ahead of his trial, with federal prosecutor Sara Winik saying he posed a “serious risk of danger to the community.”
“In this case, the defendant terrifyingly opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way the city hasn’t seen in more than 20 years,” Winik said, seemingly referencing 9/11. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned, and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city.”
The American Public Health Association says gun violence in the US is a public health crisis. It is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Jan. 3, at least 104 people have already died from gun violence this year, and another 198 have died by suicide, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. In 2022, more than 20,000 people died from gun violence, with over 24,000 additional gun deaths by suicide.