Frank James is expected to plead guilty next month to terrorism charges related to the April 12 mass shooting on a crowded N train in Brooklyn that left 29 straphangers injured including 10 with gunshot wounds.
James, 63, was scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 27 in Brooklyn federal court, answering to charges including 10 counts of terrorism against a mass transit system and one of discharging a firearm in a crime of violence, but on Wednesday his attorneys filed papers with the court indicating James wishes to plead guilty in the first week of January. The court has scheduled a change of plea hearing for Jan. 3.
His lawyers had indicated for months that the suspected shooter intended to go to trial, and it’s not clear what caused the change of heart. By pleading guilty to all charges, James could still face a life sentence in federal custody.
James’ lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg of the Federal Defenders, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
The defense on Tuesday submitted a letter to the presiding judge, William F. Kuntz, requesting the trial be adjourned to a later date. James’ lawyers said they did not have the ability to pore through 1,600 pages of discovery dumped by prosecutors ahead of the trial date. The government urged the court to deny the request. Just a day later, his team submitted papers announcing his intention to take a plea.
The move comes two weeks after prosecutors unveiled damning evidence against James, wherein he volunteered to investigators that he was on the train in question at the time of the incident. The defense sought to block the evidence at trial, arguing that James had not been read his Miranda rights, but the government contended the interrogation was admissible due to a “public safety” exception to the rights outlined in Miranda v. Arizona.
The defense was also seeking to block video evidence from the day of the shooting, where a victim gave a description of the alleged perpetrator matching that of James.
James previously petitioned the court to move his trial from Brooklyn to Chicago, arguing he could not receive a fair trial in the Big Apple due to sensationalism by the media and public officials like Mayor Eric Adams.
James, a Bronx native, had been living in the Midwest at the time of the attack, often posting bizarre rants on YouTube including ones targeting the mayor, arguing he was a “victim” of the city’s mental health system.
Following the attack at the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, the alleged perpetrator slipped out of the station and was on the lam for more than a day, inciting a citywide manhunt that ended with James calling the cops on himself in the East Village.
During his time in federal custody, he allegedly became fleeting pals with R. Kelly, indicated to the judge his displeasure with the press covering his case, and skipped a scheduled status conference, forcing Judge Kuntz to send the US Marshals to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park — not too far from the site of the attack — to retrieve him.