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Colin FERGUSON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Racist - Shooting of 25 people aboard the Long Island Rail Road commuter train
Number of victims: 6
Date of murder: December 7, 1993
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: January 14, 1958
Victims profile: Amy LoCicero Federici, 27; James Gorycki, 51; Mikyung Kim, 27; Theresa Magtoto, 30; Dennis McCarthy, 52, and Richard Nettleton, 34 (passengers)
Method of murder: Shooting (Ruger P-89 9mm pistol)
Location: Garden City, New York City, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 6 consecutive 25-years-to-life terms on February 17, 1995
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 
 
 
 
 

On December 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson decided to ignite his own race war and started firing at white people on the Long Island Commuter Train. His rampage left six dead and several injured.

Colin defended himself at his trial claiming that he was the victim of a racist conspiracy.

 
 

Colin Ferguson was convicted of the December 7, 1993 shooting of 25 people aboard the 5:33 pm Long Island Rail Road commuter train out of Penn Station at Merillon Avenue station in Garden City, New York, New York.

Ferguson was wrestled to the floor of the train by three men, as he reloaded his Ruger P-89 9mm pistol for the third time, and held until the arrival of police. He killed six passengers and wounded nineteen during the mass murder. The gun had been legally purchased.

Ferguson's defense counsel had urged him to let them argue that he had been driven to temporary insanity by "black rage", and that although he had committed the killings, he should not be held criminally liable; however, Ferguson insisted that he had not committed the killings and chose to represent himself. Ferguson's attorney was quoted in the Associated Press ( August 12, 1994), "Without a psychiatriccdefense, Ferguson has no defense. There was no doubt that he was there, that he fired the weapon, that he would have fired it more if he had not been wrestled to the ground. There is no doubt that Colin Ferguson, if sane, was guilty." More than a dozen witnesses testified that he was the killer, yet Ferguson argued that he was being framed, maintaining that someone had stolen his gun while he slept and shot the passengers. "This is", he said, "a case of stereotyped victimization of a black man and the subsequent cpnspiracy to destroy him."

Some argue that Ferguson's attack was a hate crime; however, the case was not prosecuted as such.

Trial

During the trial, William M. Kunstler and Ronald L. Kuby attempted to argue that Ferguson was driven to mental illness through years of living in an oppressive and racist society. They argued that Ferguson's insistence on representing himself and not pleading insanity demonstrated his psychological incompetence to stand trial. This position was rejected by the presiding judge: Mr. Ferguson was found competent.

Ferguson argued that the 93 counts he was charged with were related to the year 1993, and thus the charges had been made up by the prosecution. He also argued that a mysterious black man, with the same residential address, had committed the crimes. Later, he argued that a white man had committed the crimes. He called witnesses that identified him as the killer, and spoke to them in such a way as to provoke them to reiterate that identification time and again. Reporters found these moments of Ferguson's defence "bizarre" and "surreal".

Ferguson was sentenced to 200 years in prison, on February 17, 1995.

Judge Donald E. Belfi, of the Nassau County Court, called Ferguson a "selfish, self-righteous, coward."

Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband Denis McCarthy was killed by Ferguson, and whose son, Kevin McCarthy, was severely injured, was subsequently elected to the United States Congress on a platform of gun control.

The survivors of some other victims of Ferguson's rampage (those killed were Denis McCarthy, James Gorycki, Amy LoCicero, Theresa Magtoto, Richard Nettleton, Mikyung Kim) have also become involved in gun control efforts.

Additional Quotes

"I hope somewhere down the road I will be forgotten...that I will just be able to live the life I had before, a quiet life unknown to the world."

 
 

Colin Ferguson (born January 14, 1958, Kingston, Jamaica) was convicted of murdering six people and injuring nineteen others on the Long Island Rail Road in Garden City, New York, on December 7, 1993. As the train pulled into the Merillon Avenue Station, Ferguson pulled out his gun and started firing at passengers. He killed six and wounded nineteen before being stopped by three of the passengers: Kevin Blum, Mark McEntee, and Mike O'Connor. Ferguson's trial was notable for a number of unusual developments, including his firing of his defense counsel and insisting on representing himself and examining himself as a live witness.

Ferguson was convicted on February 17, 1995, of murder for the death of the six passengers who died of their injuries. He was also convicted of attempted murder for wounding nineteen passengers during the mass murder. He received 315 years and eight months to life, meaning his current earliest possible parole date is August 6, 2309. Ferguson is currently serving his sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility in western New York.

Trial

Ferguson's defense team had proposed an innovative defense that he had been driven to temporary insanity by black rage, and that he should not be held criminally liable, even though he had committed the killings. However, Ferguson insisted that he had not committed the shootings and chose to represent himself. Ferguson's attorney was quoted in the Associated Press (August 12, 1994) as saying,

"Without a psychiatric defense, Ferguson has no defense. There was no doubt that he was there, that he fired the weapon, that he would have fired it more if he had not been wrestled to the ground. There is no doubt that Colin Ferguson, if sane, was guilty."

Before the trial, William Kunstler and Ron Kuby attempted to argue that Ferguson was driven to mental illness through years of living in an oppressive and racist society. They argued that Ferguson's insistence on representing himself and not pleading insanity demonstrated his psychological incompetence to stand trial. This submission was rejected by the presiding judge Donald E. Belfi. Ferguson was found competent to stand trial at the Nassau County Court, and allowed to represent himself (pro se).

A 2002 book by trial consultant Mark C. Bardwell and criminal justice professor Bruce A. Arrigo examined the competency issues in the Ferguson case

Ferguson's trial proved to be bizarre as he would be cross examining the police that arrested him and victims he shot. It was broadcast live by local media and Court TV, but was constantly overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson murder case going on simultaneously on the west coast.

Ferguson argued that the 93 counts he was charged with were related to 1993, and had it been 1925 he would have been charged with only 25 counts. He admitted bringing the gun onto the train, but claimed that he fell asleep, and another man grabbed his gun and began firing. He also argued that a mysterious man named Mr. Su had information concerning a conspiracy against him. He also found another man who was willing to testify that the government implanted a computer chip in Ferguson's brain, but at the last minute decided not to call him to the stand. His cross examination questions mostly started with "Is it your testimony..." and would simply force the witness to repeat testimony already given. When a witness refused to answer the question to his satisfaction he would often ask the judge to "admonish the witness to answer the question". During the course of his cross-examinations, Ferguson would refer to himself in the third-person, most particularly asking the victims of the shooting "Did you see Colin Ferguson..." to which the witness would reply "I saw you shoot me." Legal experts pointed out that Ferguson's questions were pointless and were not geared towards rebutting testimony. By not recognizing when to object to testimony and closing arguments, he would lose his right to appeal on those grounds. Among the defense witnesses Ferguson requested was President Bill Clinton. After his conviction, he was put in the unenviable position to argue in appellate briefs that he had incompetent counsel (himself).

Ferguson was convicted on February 17, 1995 of murder for the death of the six passengers who died of their injuries:

  • Amy LoCicero Federici

  • James Gorycki

  • Mikyung Kim

  • Theresa Magtoto

  • Dennis McCarthy

  • Richard Nettleton

He was also convicted of attempted murder for wounding nineteen passengers during the mass murder. He received 315 years and eight months to life, meaning his current earliest possible parole date is August 6, 2309. He also received the judge's promise that "Colin Ferguson will never return to society, and will spend the rest of his natural life in prison". At the sentencing, Judge Donald E. Belfi called Ferguson a "selfish, self-righteous coward". He also used the sentencing as an opportunity to criticize New York's controversial Sentencing Cap Law, which would have capped Ferguson's sentence at 50 years had no one died in the massacre because all of the felonies he committed on the train were part of one occurrence, therefore all sentences would have been served concurrently and capped at 50 years.

Ferguson is currently serving his sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

Aftermath

Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis McCarthy, was killed by Ferguson, and whose son, Kevin McCarthy, was severely injured, was subsequently elected to the United States Congress on a platform of gun control. She was motivated to run for Congress after the representative in her district Dan Frisa voted against an assault weapons bill. Some of Ferguson's other victims and their family members have also become involved in gun control efforts.

McCarthy also sued Olin Corporation, the parent of Winchester Ammunition under products liability and negligence theories for their manufacture of the Black Talon bullets used by Ferguson. The suit failed for numerous reasons, most notably that New York law placed no responsibility on manufacturers for the criminal misuse of their products and that legislatures, not courts, should make decisions relating to regulating weapons.

Most of the regular commuters who used the 5:33 Hicksville Local returned to the train the day after the shootings. Interviewed by the media, a number cited the need to face their fears and the trauma created by the crimes rather than avoid riding their regular train.

The railroad did not discontinue the scheduled train or alter its schedule after the shootings, and the 5:33 Hicksville Local continues to operate. The car (M3 9891) in which the shootings occurred was refurbished and renumbered (to 9945) and still operates on the LIRR.

Ferguson was the subject of a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch in which he, portrayed by Tim Meadows, declared "I did not shoot them, they shot me" and asked witnesses questions about shooting him while they were on the stand.

During the 1993 summer excursion season the LIRR presented a dinner theater mystery, Murder on the Montauk Express, on its premier Friday evening train to the resorts of the Hamptons and Montauk. The play was not renewed after the Ferguson murders.

In 1994, Ferguson was apparently involved in a fistfight with fellow inmate Joel Rifkin. The brawl began after an argument regarding "whose killings were better". Other sources say the fight was also (or perhaps only) about telephone privileges.

 
 

Colin Ferguson is an African-Jamaican mass murderer who was convicted of murdering six people and injuring nineteen others on the Long Island Rail Road in Garden City, New York. At the time of the killings, he was a Permanent Resident of the U.S., with a Green Card, by virtue of his marriage to an American citizen. He will be incarcerated in an American prison for the rest of his life.

On December 7, 1993, as the train pulled into the Merillon Avenue Station, Ferguson pulled out his gun and started firing at passengers. He killed six and wounded nineteen before being stopped by three of the passengers: Kevin Blum, Mark McEntee, and Mike O'Connor. Ferguson's trial was notable for a number of unusual developments, including his firing of his defense counsel and insisting on representing himself and questioning his own victims on the stand.

Ferguson was convicted on February 17, 1995, of Murder for the deaths of the six passengers who died of their injuries. He was also convicted of Attempted Murder for wounding nineteen passengers. He is currently (2010) serving his sentence of 315-years-and-8-months to Life at the Attica Correctional Facility in western New York. His current earliest possible parole date is August 6, 2309.

Early life

Youth

Colin Ferguson was born in Kingston, Jamaica on January 14, 1958, to Von Herman Ferguson and May Ferguson. Von Herman, a wealthy pharmacist and the managing director of the large pharmaceutical company Hercules Agencies, was described by Time magazine as "one of the most prominent businessmen in Jamaica".

Colin Ferguson's family, including four brothers, lived in a two-story home with a nanny and a housekeeper in the Kingston suburb of Havendale. Ferguson attended the Calabar High School there from 1969 to 1974, where the Principal at the time described him as a "well-rounded student" who played cricket and soccer. He graduated in the top third of his class.

In 1978, when Colin Ferguson was 20 years old, Von Herman Ferguson was killed in a car crash; his funeral was attended by government and military luminaries. Colin Ferguson's mother died from cancer soon afterward. The deaths destroyed the family's fortunes, and family friends said they deeply disturbed Colin Ferguson himself. Ferguson moved to the United States in 1982 on a Visitor's Visa. Friends said he had trouble dealing with the racism in the US, and he felt frustrated because he couldn't find work outside of menial jobs

Early United States life

Ferguson met Audrey Warren, an American citizen of Jamaican descent, and married her on May 13, 1986, qualifying him for permanent U.S. residence. Ferguson and Warren moved to a house in Long Island, where they often fought, sometimes to the point that police intervention was required.

On May 18, 1988, Warren obtained an uncontested divorce from Ferguson, claiming the marriage ended because they shared "differing social views". Acquaintances said Warren left Ferguson because he was "too aggressive or antagonistic" for her, and that the divorce was a "crushing blow" to Ferguson. He got a job doing clerical work for the Ademco Security Group in Syosset, New York, a hamlet of the North Shore of Long Island.

On August 18, 1989, while standing on a stool to reach invoices from a filing cabinet, Ferguson slipped and fell, injuring his head, neck and back. The injury led to his termination. He filed a complaint with the New York State Workers Compensation Board, which reviewed the matter over the next several years. Ferguson enrolled at Nassau Community College in East Garden City, where he made the dean's list three times. Also that year, he was forced to leave a class after a disciplinary hearing board found he had acted overly aggressive toward the teacher.

In the fall of 1990, Ferguson transferred to Adelphi University in Garden City, where he majored in business administration. Ferguson spoke out against coexistence with whites and routinely made calls for violence and revolution. Ferguson regularly accused others around him of racism, even as the result of entirely unremarkable encounters. During one occasion, Ferguson complained that a white woman in the library shouted racial epithets at him after he asked her about a class assignment. An investigation concluded the incident never occurred.

Later, Ferguson attended a symposium by a faculty member discussing her experiences in South Africa. Ferguson interrupted the professor by shouting, "We should be talking about the revolution in South Africa and how to get rid of the white people" and "Kill everybody white!" When students and teachers tried to quiet him, Ferguson started threatening them, repeatedly saying, "The black revolution will get you." He was suspended from the school in June 1991 as a result of the threats, and although he was free to reapply after the suspension, he chose not to do so.

Pre-shooting years

In 1991, Ferguson started renting a room in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was unemployed. Ferguson lived around many other West Indian immigrants. Neighbors said he dressed very neatly, but kept to himself and rarely smiled or spoke to anybody, except occasionally to say hello. However, his landlord Patrick Denis said Ferguson once told him, "I'm such a great person. There must be only one thing holding me back. It must be white people."

In 1992, Warren filed a complaint with police alleging Ferguson pried open the trunk of her car. Prior to the incident, Warren had not seen him since the divorce. In February 1992, Ferguson was arrested and charged with harassing a white woman on a subway. The woman tried to sit in a vacant seat alongside Ferguson and asked him to move over, prompting Ferguson to scream at her and press his leg and elbow against her until police officers pinned him to the ground.

Ferguson tried to escape the police and shouted to other nearby African Americans, "Brothers, come help me!" Ferguson sent letters to the New York City Police Commissioner and other officials complaining about his arrest, describing it as "viscous [sic] and racist", and claiming he was brutalized by the officers who arrested him. The New York City Transit Authority investigated and dismissed the claims.

In September 1992, Ferguson was awarded $26,250 for his workers compensation claim against Ademco Security Group. In April 1993, Ferguson insisted he was still in pain and demanded the case be reopened so he could get more money for medical treatment. In the following weeks, he visited a Manhattan law firm for a consultation. Lauren Abramson, an attorney with the firm, said she immediately felt uncomfortable and threatened by Ferguson. She asked a law clerk to sit in on the meeting because "I did not want to be alone with him", something Abramson said she had never done before. Although Ferguson was neatly dressed during the consultation, he acted strangely and identified himself by a false name before providing his real name.

Months later, Ferguson made threatening calls to members of the firm, claiming they were discriminating against him. In one of the calls, he made reference to a massacre that occurred in California. The calls prompted the lawyers to start locking their inner office doors out of fear. Ferguson tried to have his workers compensation claim reopened by the New York State Workers Compensation Board, which reexamined the case due to his persistence, but it was ultimately rejected. The board placed Ferguson on a list of potentially dangerous people security guards were to watch out for.

In April 1993, Ferguson moved to California in search of new career opportunities. He unsuccessfully applied for several jobs, including a car wash, where the manager laughed at him. Ferguson purchased a Ruger P-89 9mm pistol at a Turner's Outdoorsman in Long Beach for $400, after waiting the 15-day waiting period required under California's gun laws. Ferguson presented himself as a California resident by providing a driver's license he received two months earlier, which had an address of the Long Beach motel where he stayed.

After Ferguson was robbed by two black men, he started carrying the gun around with him in a paper bag. Ferguson moved back to New York City in May 1993 because, he told a friend, he did not like competing with immigrants and Hispanics for jobs. Denis, his Flatbush landlord, said Ferguson appeared even more unstable upon his return, speaking in the third person about "some apocryphal-type doom scenario" that included black people rising up and striking down "their pompous rulers and oppressors".

Ferguson started taking five showers a day and could be heard by neighbors repeatedly chanting at night, "all the black people killing all the white people". Denis became increasingly concerned about Ferguson's obsession with racism and apparent growing mental instability, and asked Ferguson to move out by the end of the month

Shooting

On December 7, 1993, Ferguson purchased a ticket at Pennsylvania Station in New York City and boarded the third car of the east-bound Long Island Rail Road 5:33 evening commuter train to Hicksville, along with 80 other passengers. Ferguson, who sat on the western end of the car, was carrying his handgun and a canvas bag filled with 160 rounds of ammunition.

As the train approached the Merillon Avenue Station, Ferguson drew the gun, dropped several cartridges on the ground, stood up and started opening fire on the passengers at random. During three minutes of gunfire, Ferguson killed six people and injured another 19. Initially, some passengers mistook the gunshots for caps or fireworks, until a woman shouted, "He's got a gun! He's shooting people!"

Ferguson walked east on the train, pulling the trigger steadily about every half second. Several passengers tried to hide beneath their seats, while others fled to the eastern end of the train and tried to go into the next car. Ferguson walked down the aisle of the train and shot people to his right and left as he passed each seat, briefly facing each victim before firing. The New York Times later wrote the motions were "as methodical as if he were taking tickets". Ferguson repeated over and over, "I'm going to get you" as he walked down the aisle.

Other passengers farther away in the train did not realize a shooting had occurred until after the train stopped. As a crowd of panicked passengers fled from the third car into neighboring cars, one man appeared annoyed by their unruliness and said, "Be calm", before they forced a train door open and fled into the station. Two people were injured in the stampede of passengers. After the train's engineer was informed of the shooting, he decided against opening the train doors right away because two of the cars were not yet at the platform. An announcement was made ordering conductors not to open the doors. However, one conductor climbed out of a train window and opened some door of the third car from the outside so panicked passengers could escape.

Ferguson emptied two 15-round magazines during the shooting. While reloading his third magazine, somebody yelled, "Grab him!" Passengers Michael O'Connor, Kevin Blum and Mark McEntee tackled Ferguson and pinned him to one of the train's seats. Several other passengers ran forward to grab his arms and legs and help hold him down. While he was pinned, Ferguson said, "Oh God, what did I do? What did I do? I deserve whatever I get." Andrew Roderick, an off-duty Long Island Rail Road policeman who was picking up his wife from the train, boarded the train car and handcuffed Ferguson.

Six passengers died from their injuries during the shooting:

  • Amy Federici, a 27-year-old corporate interior designer from Mineola

  • James Gorycki, a 51-year-old account executive from Mineola

  • Mi Kyung Kim, a 27-year-old New Hyde Park resident

  • Maria Theresa Tumangan Magtoto, a 30-year-old lawyer from Westbury

  • Dennis McCarthy, a 52-year-old office manager from Mineola and husband of Carolyn McCarthy

  • Richard Nettleton, a 24-year-old college student from Roslyn Heights

Police detectives later said it appeared Ferguson had been planning the shooting for more than a week. Chief Joseph Flynn of the Long Island Rail Road police said, "This was the work of a deranged, maniacal person who for a variety of reasons decided to explode." None of Ferguson's victims were black, although it was unclear whether any other black passengers were aboard the train. Ferguson showed no emotion as he sat in the back of a police car, which some passengers said was as shocking and disturbing as the violence of the shooting itself. Upon seeing Ferguson, one of the victims became hysterical and shouted, "How can he be sitting there so calm after everything he did?"

After arresting Ferguson, police found pieces of notebook paper in his pockets with scribbled notes with the heading "reasons for this". One of the notes referred to "racism by Caucasians and Uncle Tom Negroes". They included a reference to "the false allegations against me by the filthy Caucasian racist female on the #1 line", a reference to his February 1992 arrest. Ferguson's notes expressed anger toward the New York State Workers Compensation Board, Asians, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and "so-called civil right leaders such as the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, C. Vernon Mason, and Calvin Butts".

They also included the names and telephone numbers of the New York lieutenant governor, the attorney general's office and the Manhattan law firm Ferguson previously threatened, who Ferguson referred to as "those corrupt 'black' attorneys who not only refuse to help me but tried to steal my car". The notes indicated Ferguson planned to wait to start the killings until after he was beyond the New York City limits out of respect for outgoing New York City Mayor David Dinkins and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Ferguson showed no remorse during hours of questioning from the Nassau County district attorney's office. Officials there said, "He was lucid and clear and aware of what was going on." Ferguson was arraigned on December 8, 1993, in a Long Island courtroom. He never spoke during the arraignment and did not enter a plea. He was committed to prison without bail. As he was escorted from the courthouse, a reporter asked him if he hated whites, to which Ferguson replied, "It's a lie".

Reaction

President Bill Clinton took notice of the Ferguson shooting, calling it a "terrible human tragedy". The day after the shooting, Clinton announced he asked Attorney General Janet Reno to review a proposal by New York City Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani that would set up a national uniform licensing system for gun buyers. Clinton cited the Ferguson murders as a factor in his support of the program, which would include background checks, tests and required renewals every two years. About one week after the shooting, Clinton visited with O'Connor, Blum and McEntee.

During his first major speech since his election as mayor, Giuliani cited the Ferguson murders while he repeated his previous calls for the death penalty and a uniform gun licensing law. During his monthly radio call-in show, Governor Mario Cuomo called the Ferguson shootings "a dramatic, spectacular slaughter", and called for stronger gun control measures. U.S. Senator Al D'Amato said the Ferguson case demonstrated the need for capital punishment in New York because "that is the only fitting punishment for this cold-blooded killer".

Many people in the African American community expressed concern the Ferguson shootings would lead to a backlash of violence and racial animosities against the black community. Civil rights activists Al Sharpton and Herbert Daughtry urged that African Americans in general not be blamed for the crime; Sharpton, in particular, criticized what he called attempts "to demonize black and Hispanic dissatisfaction" by linking those groups to the murders.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson delivered a sermon at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, during a service attended by the victims' grieving families. Audrey Warren released a statement shortly after the shootings expressing sorrow for the victims and their families. Jackson stressed the shootings were the result of one man and should not be seen as indicative of all African Americans. The day after the shootings, Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta called Ferguson "an animal". Jackson and other African American leaders criticized the comment as racially charged, but Gulotta later insisted his statements had nothing to do with race.

During a press conference in the days after the shooting, the Long Island Rail Road Police Benevolent Association called the trains "unsafe" and said the railroad needed to triple the size of its 216-person police force. Long Island Rail Road responded with the claim that crimes against passengers had dropped over the last few years. However, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Commuter Railroad placed more officers on trains and increased the visibility of police in response to the shootings. Long Island Rail Road officials also made counselors available for passengers who wanted one, and sent senior railroad officials out to trains to answer riders' questions.

A New York Times editorial called for stronger gun control laws in response to the murders, specifically citing the ease with which Ferguson obtained a handgun in California, which had one of the country's stricter gun laws. Several Adelphi University students expressed concern that Ferguson may have been taking the train to the school with plans of shooting people out of revenge for his past experiences there, although the train Ferguson took was not the closest one to Adelphi. Most of the regular commuters who used the 5:33 Hicksville Local returned to the train the day after the shootings. In interviews with the media, a number of passengers cited the need to face their fears and the psychological trauma created by the incident, rather than avoid riding their regular train.

Pre-trial

Early court appearances

Anthony J. Falanga was appointed Ferguson's attorney on December 11, 1993. Falanga called for his client to receive a psychiatric evaluation. Under New York state law, an insanity defense would require Ferguson's lawyers to prove he suffers from a mental disease or defect and, as a result, could not tell whether his actions were right or wrong. At the time, lawyers and mental health experts said such a defense would be difficult because Ferguson appeared to have carefully planned the attacks, and because he said "Oh God, what did I do" after he was stopped. However, media outlets and legal experts at the time speculated a defense could argue Ferguson suffered from paranoia, particularly based on Ferguson's history of irrational racism allegations and claims that whites were discriminating against him. Ferguson was placed on suicide watch in the Nassau County Jail.

On December 18, Ferguson asked a judge to let him replace Falanga with Colin A. Moore, a Brooklyn-based attorney with a reputation for attacking alleged racism in the criminal-justice system. Moore offered to represent Ferguson pro bono. Before a ruling was even made on the request, Moore held a press conference announcing he would seek a change of venue to Brooklyn, claiming it was impossible for Ferguson to receive a fair trial in a Nassau court due to a "severe underrepresentation of African-Americans on the Nassau County jury panel". Later, Moore withdrew his offer to represent Ferguson, citing conflicts he did not explain.

Ferguson told a judge he questioned Falanga's integrity, disagreed with his handling of the case and had no intention of cooperating with him. Dr. Allen Reichman, a psychiatrist who interviewed Ferguson, indicated in his report that Ferguson may have been feigning mental illness when he spoke of conspiracies against him. Reichman said Ferguson's assertions were "vague and somewhat evasive", in contrast to the normally detailed and highly focused nature of systematized paranoid delusional thinking. On January 5, 1994, a report by a court-appointed psychologist and psychatrist concluded Ferguson was competent to stand trial.

Indictment

On January 19, after three days of evidence presentation, a grand jury handed up a 93-count indictment against Ferguson, which carried the possibility of up to 175 years in prison. Nassau County District Attorney Dennis Dillon said of the sentence maximum, "It's not quite infinity, but it will do." Dillon also announced he would not agree to any plea bargain in the case. The indictment included two counts of murder for each slain victim, both for intentional murder and for depraved indifference to human life. It also included 19 counts of attempted murder, 34 counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, intent to use the weapon, violation of civil rights of each of the 25 victims and "intent to harass, annoy, threaten and alarm" the victims "because of their race, color or national origin".

On March 1, William Kunstler and Ron Kuby, law partners known for representing unpopular clients, announced they had accepted a request by Ferguson to handle his case. Kunstler, who said he would not collect a fee for the defense, said Ferguson had been made out to be a "pariah" by the media and public.

In April 1994, District Attorney Dillon sought a gag order for all lawyers involved in the case, arguing Kunstler and Kuby had made statements to the media that might be inadmissible during the trial and could influence potential jurors. Kunstler and Kuby argued they would have no problem finding 12 unbiased jurors, and claimed Ferguson had already been publicly attacked in the press by government and police officials.

Nassau County Judge Donald E. Belfi rejected the gag request on April 23, claiming the impact of inflammatory statements already made by lawyers, politicians and police would fade in the months before the trial begins. However, Belfi warned attorneys from both sides to follow a state court professional disciplinary rule that already limits their comments to news organizations.

Prison attacks

Starting at about a week into his incarceration, Ferguson complained about his treatment, claiming correction officers attacked him with milk crates and a fire extinguisher, while depriving him of necessities like soap and antiperspirant spray. Ferguson said, "Of course there is no sympathy for me in the institution. When I suffered and screamed I was told that it was a good sign by the prison guards because they were hoping for my swift departure from life." Later, Ron Kuby argued Ferguson had been a frequent target of harassment at the Nassau County Jail, and requested the United States Department of Justice intervene to ensure Ferguson's safety.

On March 23, while returning to his cell from the medical unit, Ferguson was attacked in jail by a group of inmates. Ferguson suffered a broken nose and a swollen left eye. Prison officials had been notified by Kuby that an assault was imminent, and were in the process of following up on the warning when Ferguson was attacked. Kuby, who said he had been warned of the attack by another inmate, stated "The word was out. Everyone in the institution knew he was going to be set up." Kuby called the attack racially motivated, and later alleged some jail officials and guards had advance knowledge of the impending assault. Five inmates were charged with second-degree assault for their connection in the attack: Frank Cordero, 36; Robert Drobyshewski, 24; James Doukas, 23; Marcos Flores, 30; and Edward MacKenzie, 38.

In November 1994, Ferguson's lawyers claimed prison guards taunted him with claims that the election of Governor George Pataki, a death penalty supporter, meant Ferguson would be executed if found guilty. Ferguson's lawyers claimed prison guards showed him the headlines of newspaper stories about Pataki and claimed Ferguson was "headed for electrocution sometime soon". Ferguson was deeply troubled by the claims, despite assurances from his attorneys that the death penalty could only be imposed in crimes after a capital punishment bill became law. Ferguson was not reassured until after a judge told him the same thing, at the request of Kunstler

"Black rage" defense

Kunstler and Kuby proposed an innovative defense that Ferguson had been driven to temporary insanity by a psychiatric condition they termed "black rage". Kunstler and Kuby argued Ferguson had been driven insane by racial prejudice, and could not be held criminally liable for his actions even though he had committed the killings. The attorneys compared it to the utilization of the battered woman defense, posttraumatic stress disorder and the child abuse syndrome in other cases to negate criminal accountability. Kuby said the notes carried by Ferguson on the day of his arrest demonstrated that Ferguson was motivated by rage during the shootings.

Donald E. Belfi, the Nassau County Judge assigned to the Ferguson case, criticized Kunstler for speaking to the media about the proposed defense before it had been examined by a mental health professional. Belfi said, "Mr. Kunstler may have many talents, but until he receives his medical degree with a specialty in psychiatry, these types of conclusions should best be left for medical experts and the triers of the facts."

However, Ferguson started to claim he was not involved in the Long Island Rail Road shootings at all, and repeatedly refused to meet with a psychiatrist chosen by Kunstler and Kuby. Ferguson told the attorneys he was receiving messages straight from God, and spoke of conspiracies to destroy him by those opposed to God.

On August 12, Kunstler and Kuby asked Judge Belfi to reconsider Ferguson's competence to stand trial, claiming he was growing more delusional, paranoid and obsessive by the day, and that he was too mentally unbalanced for them to mount any kind of defense. George Peck, the prosecutor in Ferguson's trial, insisted Ferguson's apparent lack of cooperation with his lawyers is a defense tactic to avoid a trial.

On August 20, Ferguson appeared before Belfi and rejected his lawyer's efforts to have him declared mentally unfit to stand trial. Ferguson spoke in a long and rambling manner, occasionally ignoring Belfi when the judge tried to interrupt him. Ferguson claimed a police officer who escorted him from the Nassau County Jail said to him, "You realize someone else, in fact, was actually responsible for the shooting." When asked if Ferguson understood the role of the prosecuting attorney, Ferguson responded, "To perpetrate injustices against me."

Kunstler and Kuby argued Ferguson's behavior was indicative of his mental imbalance. But Belfi refused the lawyers' request to reconsider his competence, citing the original psychiatric report that concluded Ferguson was able to understand the charges against him and was "malingering in an attempt to create an impression" that he was mentally imbalanced and unable to cooperate with his attorney. When Belfi ended the proceeding, Ferguson tried to continue talking. After he was placed into handcuffs by guards, Ferguson shouted, "They have made it too tight", and collapsed to the floor. He had to be dragged from the courtroom. Denis Dillon suggested Kunstler was trying to create "such a bizarre situation" that the court would reverse its earlier ruling regarding Ferguson's competence.

Removal of Kunstler and Kuby

On September 20, Kunstler and Kuby filed notice that they would pursue an insanity defense despite the objections of their client. Ferguson continued to claim he was not involved in the shootings, and proposed defending himself during the trial.

In the following months, Ferguson sent Judge Belfi several letters regarding disputes between Ferguson, Kunstler and Kuby. Ferguson claimed in the letters that he was not insane, and rejected Kunstler's and Kuby's "black rage" defense. Although George Peck argued the letters proved Ferguson was able to understand the charges against him and was actively participating in his defense, Kuby argued the letters only further demonstrated Ferguson's confused state of mind. On November 11, Ferguson agreed he would stop resisting efforts to meet with a court-appointed psychiatrist. As a result, Judge Belfi agreed to hold a third hearing as to whether Ferguson was mentally competent to stand trial.

On December 10, Judge Belfi ruled Ferguson was competent to stand trial. Belfi said he based his decision in part on his conversations with Ferguson in the courtroom, including Ferguson's concern over Governor's Pataki's promise to sign a death-penalty bill. Belfi strongly advised Ferguson against defending himself, but Ferguson said he intended to defend himself. Kuby said of the decision, "What we will have now is a complete circus. A crazy man cannot defend himself. Mr. Ferguson, evidence to the contrary, believes he is not guilty and that someone else killed all those people aboard the train." Kuby continued, "Without a psychiatric defense, Ferguson has no defense. There was no doubt that he was there, that he fired the weapon, that he would have fired it more if he had not been wrestled to the ground. There is no doubt that Colin Ferguson, if sane, was guilty".

Trial

Ferguson's trial proved to be bizarre as he would be cross examining the police that arrested him and victims he shot. It was broadcast live by local media and Court TV, but was constantly overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson murder case going on simultaneously on the west coast.

Ferguson argued that the 93 counts he was charged with were related to 1993, and had it been 1925 he would have been charged with only 25 counts. He admitted bringing the gun onto the train, but claimed that he fell asleep, and another man grabbed his gun and began firing. He also argued that a mysterious man named Mr. Su had information concerning a conspiracy against him. He also found another man who was willing to testify that the government implanted a computer chip in Ferguson's brain, but at the last minute decided not to call him to the stand.

His cross examination questions mostly started with "Is it your testimony..." and would simply force the witness to repeat testimony already given. When a witness refused to answer the question to his satisfaction he would often ask the judge to "admonish the witness to answer the question". During the course of his cross-examinations, Ferguson would refer to himself in the third person, most particularly asking the victims of the shooting "Did you see Colin Ferguson..." to which the witness would reply "I saw you shoot me." Legal experts pointed out that Ferguson's questions were pointless and were not geared towards rebutting testimony. By not recognizing when to object to testimony and closing arguments, he would lose his right to appeal on those grounds. Among the defense witnesses Ferguson requested was President Bill Clinton.

Ferguson originally sought to question himself on the witness stand, but ultimately did not do so. He told the judge and media outlets he intended to call a number of witnesses that would prove his innocence, including a ballistic expert, a handwriting expert and two regular eyewitnesses, but that they were afraid to come forward and take the stand. Ultimately, he did not call any of the witnesses. He also told Judge Belfi of an alleged conspiracy by the Jewish Defense League to kill him in prison if he were convicted. He said the prison slaying of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was "set up as a prelude against me".

Ferguson was convicted on February 17, 1995 of murder for the death of the six passengers who died of their injuries. He was also convicted of attempted murder for wounding nineteen passengers during the mass murder. He received 315 years and eight months to life, meaning his current earliest possible parole date is August 6, 2309. He also received the judge's promise that "Colin Ferguson will never return to society, and will spend the rest of his natural life in prison".

At the sentencing, Judge Donald E. Belfi called Ferguson a "selfish, self-righteous coward". He also used the sentencing as an opportunity to criticize New York's controversial Sentencing Cap Law, which would have capped Ferguson's sentence at 50 years had no one died in the massacre because all of the felonies he committed on the train were part of one occurrence, therefore all sentences would have been served concurrently and capped at 50 years. After his conviction, he was put in the unenviable position to argue in appellate briefs that he had incompetent counsel (himself). Ferguson is currently serving his sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

Aftermath

Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis McCarthy, was killed by Ferguson, and whose son, Kevin McCarthy, was severely injured, was subsequently elected to the United States Congress, on a platform of gun control. She was motivated to run for Congress after the representative in her district Dan Frisa voted against an assault weapons bill. Some of Ferguson's other victims and their family members have also become involved in gun control efforts.

McCarthy also sued Olin Corporation, the parent of Winchester Ammunition under products liability and negligence theories for their manufacture of the Black Talon bullets used by Ferguson. The cartridges carry hollow-tipped bullets that can expand upon impact, reducing the likelihood of over-penetration thereby increasing the safety of innocent bystanders. One month before the Ferguson shootings, Winchester Ammunition announced they were voluntarily withdrawing the Black Talon cartridges from the market. McCarthy's suit failed for numerous reasons, most notably because New York law placed no responsibility on manufacturers for the criminal misuse of their products and that legislatures, not courts, should make decisions relating to regulating weapons.

At least a half dozen lawsuits related to the shootings were filed against the Long Island Rail Road and its parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Carolyn McCarthy filed a $36 million damage lawsuit against the two entities, claiming they failed to provide adequate protection for passengers and should have installed metal detectors and used undercover police officers. The suit sought $1 million for Dennis McCarthy's pain and suffering, $10 million for his death and for damages to survivors, and $25 million for injuries to Kevin McCarthy.

Ferguson was the subject of a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch in which he, portrayed by Tim Meadows, declared "I did not shoot them, they shot me" and asked witnesses questions about shooting him while they were on the stand. The railroad did not discontinue the scheduled train or alter its schedule after the shootings, and the 5:33 Hicksville Local continues to operate. The car (M3 9892) in which the shootings occurred was refurbished and renumbered (to 9946) and still operates on the LIRR. During the 1993 summer excursion season the LIRR presented a dinner theater mystery, Murder on the Montauk Express, on its premier Friday evening train to the resorts of the Hamptons and Montauk. The play was not renewed after the Ferguson murders.

In 1994, Ferguson was apparently involved in a fistfight with fellow inmate Joel Rifkin. The brawl began when Ferguson asked Rifkin to be quiet while Ferguson was using the telephone. The New York Daily News reported the fight escalated after Ferguson told Rifkin, "I wiped out six devils [white people], and you only killed women," to which Rifkin responded, "Yeah, but I had more victims." Ferguson then punched Rifkin in the mouth.

A 2002 book by trial consultant Mark C. Bardwell and criminal justice professor Bruce A. Arrigo examined the competency issues in the Ferguson case.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Attacker just calmly blazed away

San Jose Mercury News

December 8, 1993

The man accused of opening fire on a rush-hour commuter train was driven by racial hatred and waited until the train left New York City to avoid embarrassing Mayor David Dinkins, authorities said today.

The black suspect, accused of killing four passengers and wounding 19 others during the three-minute spree Tuesday evening, carried notes expressing his hatred for whites, Asians and "Uncle Tom Negroes," said Nassau County Police Commissioner Donald Kane.

 
 

Victims chosen by byas

Disability case keyed killings but suspect directed rage at whites, asians, 'Uncle Toms'

Philadelphia Daily News

December 9, 1993

The gunman charged with turning a packed Long Island Rail Road commuter train into a moving chamber of death apparently snapped when his rage over a workers' compensation case boiled over into hateful rampage against whites and Asians and "Uncle Tom" blacks.

The Daily News has learned that the chairwoman of the state Workers' Compensation Board, Barbara Patton, frequently takes the 5:33 p.m. train to Hicksville, N.Y., the train on which the massacre occurred.

 
 

Suspect in shooting rampage passed California's gun laws

The Phoenix Gazette

December 9, 1993

The man charged in a commuter train bloodbath bought the Ruger 9mm semiautomatic pistol from a California sporting goods store this spring after the state apparently approved the purchase.

''It went right to the shooter's hands,'' said John O'Brien, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

 
 

Suspect in rail slayings has 'no remorse'

Philadelphia Daily News

December 10, 1993

The man accused of killing five train commuters was remorseless about the rush-hour slaughter and eager to discuss what he saw as the world's slights against him, authorities said yesterday.

Colin Ferguson, 35, was under protective custody because authorities feared he would be harmed by inmates angered by racist comments attributed to him, said Lt. Robert Anderson of the Nassau County Jail.

 
 

'No way out': Train riders tell of disarming guman

The Miami Herald

December 10, 1993

The dead were slumped in their seats, the wounded were moaning in agony, and the gunman was about to reload when three suburbanites saw their chance.

Kevin Blum, Michael O'Connor Jr. and Mark McEntee, all commuters from Garden City, tackled and disarmed the burly man who shot up their Long Island Rail Road car with a semiautomatic pistol.

 
 

Woman becomes 6th fatality in train shooting

Lexington Herald-Leader

December 13, 1993

MINNEOLA, N.Y. -- A woman who moved to the suburbs in part because the Long Island Rail Road offered an easy commute to New York City died yesterday, becoming the sixth fatality of a shooting rampage on the train.

Amy Federici, a 27-year-old widow, was coming home on the 5:33 p.m. Tuesday when she was shot in the neck by a man walking up and down the aisles firing a 9mm semiautomatic gun. In all, 23 people were shot as the train pulled into Garden City.

 
 

A mass murderer's journey towards madness

By Anastasia Toufexis;Patrick E. Cole/Los Angeles - Time.com

December 20, 1993

Speaking with a Jamaican accent, Colin Ferguson said he was from Louisiana and needed a room. The India-born general manager of the Royal Motel in Long Beach, California, looked at his would-be guest, a bulky black man who admitted to being unemployed, and said, ''O.K., but if you're not good I won't let you stay here.'' ''But,'' Nick Bhakta recalls, ''he was good. Every day he did not stay in the room. He came only in the nighttime.'' Bhakta charged $35 a night; Ferguson stayed three weeks. In retrospect, all he really needed was 15 days -- the time it took to clear his application to buy the 9-mm Ruger semiautomatic handgun he used last week on a rush-hour commuter train in New York.

Last spring, when Colin Ferguson traveled from Brooklyn to California and back, he had already meandered through misfortune and failure and was perhaps on the brink of madness. Family, school, work, health, everything seemed to have withered away. ''He had the 'American Dream,' and when it fell apart, he looked to blame somebody,'' his landlord told the New York Daily News. In the end, all Ferguson had left was rage.

He was born with many advantages. In his native Jamaica, Ferguson attended the exclusive Calabar boys' high school, an academy that numbers among its alumni Percival Patterson, the island's Prime Minister. The Fergusons lived in a two-story home protected by walls and wrought-iron gates in Kingston's elite suburb of Havendale. His father Von Herman Ferguson was one of the most prominent businessmen in Jamaica. When the elder Ferguson died in a car accident in 1978, his funeral was attended by government and military luminaries. However, that passage -- and the subsequent death of Ferguson's mother from cancer -- shattered the family's fortunes.

In 1982 Ferguson, then 24, left for the U.S. He was never able to re-create the life he had led on the island.

At first, though, there had been hope. He met Audrey Warren, an American of Jamaican descent, married her in 1986, and qualified for permanent U.S. residency. The couple moved into a house on Long Island and had a son. Enrolled in a local community college, Ferguson made the dean's list three times.

But that approximation of bliss collapsed in 1988, when Warren sued for divorce and won custody of their child. By last week, Ferguson was jobless and living in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, in a tiny $175-a-month room with a communal bath down the hall.

His descent was precipitous. At the time of his divorce, Ferguson began working for Ademco, a burglar-alarm manufacturer. A year into his job, however, he fell from a stool, receiving a back injury that led to his termination.

He sued for compensation, won a $26,250 judgment but, for some reason, tried to reopen proceedings with the New York State workers' compensation board. He complained that he was a victim of racial prejudice and rejected state-appointed doctors sent to examine him because their surnames sounded ethnic and not black. Eventually, Ferguson, who wrote and called incessantly, was put on a list of possible troublemakers security guards at the board were to watch out for.

In the fall of 1990 Ferguson enrolled at Adelphi University and got into angry confrontations with teachers and students, accusing white students of racism and black activists of being ''Uncle Toms.'' ''Black rage will get you,'' he told a black professor. He talked loudly of violent race wars and revolution. He interrupted a lecture by yelling ''Kill everybody white!'' By 1991, he was suspended.

In 1992 his ex-wife, who has not spoken to him since their divorce, filed a complaint with police charging that Ferguson had pried open the trunk of her car. Ferguson also clashed with police when he got into a shoving match with a woman over a subway seat.

He had compiled a list of complaints and enemies, as did other recent mass murderers -- including Alan ( Winterbourne, who shot four people in Oxnard, California, two weeks ago, and Gian Luigi Ferri, who killed eight people in a San Francisco office building last July. But while officials on the compensation board and at Adelphi were on Ferguson's list, to him almost everyone -- white, Asian or black -- had become a racist and particularly prejudiced against him. (Ferguson had ''friends'' too. Out of regard for outgoing Mayor David Dinkins, who is black, and police commissioner Raymond Kelly, who is white, he did not open fire until he was beyond New York City limits.)

Early this year Ferguson went to California in search of new opportunities. There were only new humiliations. ''He did not like competing with immigrants and Hispanics for jobs,'' James Clement, a friend, told the Washington Post. When Ferguson applied at a car wash, said Clement, the manager laughed at him.

The next day, Ferguson walked into Turner's Outdoorsman and made a downpayment on a gun. As proof of residency, he used a California driver's license he had received on a previous visit and the Royal Motel address. Fifteen days later his security check was completed, and Ferguson paid the balance.

By the end of May, he was back in New York City -- with the Ruger. Ferguson thought that the compensation board was going to reopen his case on Dec. 3. On the following Tuesday, when he learned that the news was false, he boarded the 5:33 train to Hicksville.

 
 

Man guilty of 6 murders at Long Island Station

Applause greets verdict in commuter train case

Akron Beacon Journal

February 18, 1995

Cheers and applause erupted inside the courtroom last night as Colin Ferguson was convicted of murdering six passengers and wounding 19 others on a commuter train, ending a bizarre three-week trial in which he refused an insanity plea and then offered a disjointed defense as his own lawyer.

The jury deliberated for 10 hours before returning its verdict about 9:20 p.m. in a courtroom packed with survivors of the attack and families of the slain victims.

 
 

Man sentenced to 6 life terms for train massacre

Detroit Free Press

March 25, 1995

MINNEOLA, N.Y. -- Colin Ferguson was sentenced to life behind bars Wednesday for shooting to death six people on a commuter train, prompting cheers from survivors who endured cross-examination by the killer-turned-attorney.

"You, Colin Ferguson, will never again return to society, but will rather spend the rest of your natural life in prison," Judge Donald Belfi of Nassau County Court said as he handed Ferguson the maximum on the murder charges -- six consecutive sentences of 25 years.

 
 

Colin Ferguson Trial: 1995

Law.jorank.org

Defendant: Colin Ferguson
Crimes Charged: Murder, attempted murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Colin Ferguson, Alton Rose
Chief Prosecutor: George Peck
Judge: Donald Belfi
Place: Mineola, New York
Date of Trial: January 26-February 17, 1995
Verdict: Guilty on 68 of 93 counts, including murder, attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, weapons possession
Sentence: 6 consecutive 25-years-to-life terms for the murder conviction; 19 additional 25-year sentences for each count of attempted murder

SIGNIFICANCE: In a nationally publicized trial involving a defense that could only be described as bizarre, Colin Ferguson, acting as his own attorney, questioned his alleged victims on the witness stand in an attempt to prove that someone else had committed the crimes.

fn December 7, 1993, the daily 5:133 P.M. Long Island Rail Road train left Penn Station in New York City for Hicksville, New York, carrying commuters home. As the train raced into neighboring Nassau County, one of the passengers rose and walked calmly down the aisle, shooting everyone he passed with a 9mm handgun. When the shooter paused to reload, terrified passengers wrestled him down. By then, six people lay dead or dying. Nineteen more were seriously wounded.

The man with the gun was Colin Ferguson, 36, a well-educated, unemployed immigrant from an upper middle-class Jamaican family. His surreal defense would strain debates over mental competency and criminal insanity like few others ever heard in an American courtroom.

Ferguson insisted that he was perfectly sane. In fact, he denied that he was the killer; he claimed that an unidentified white man had done the shooting and then escaped. With a train full of wounded survivors and traumatized onlookers accusing him, Ferguson's claim was clearly either a delusion or a lie.

A court-ordered psychiatric examination determined that Ferguson met both criteria by which defendants are deemed sane enough to stand trial in New York: He understood the nature of the legal proceedings against him and he was able to assist in his own defense. He was also found to have been able to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the shootings.

One month after the shootings, on January 7, 1994, Ferguson was declared mentally competent by Nassau County District Judge Ira Warshawsky. Despite this ruling, Ferguson's court-appointed attorney, Anthony Falanga, said he would still attempt to defend Ferguson on grounds of insanity. Ferguson refused to cooperate with Falanga. After two months of being ignored by his client, Falanga stepped aside when Ferguson agreed to be represented by controversial civil rights attorneys William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby. Ferguson's new lawyers agreed that he was mentally unstable, but they announced that his defense would take a different approach.

When Ferguson was arrested, police found notes in his pockets expressing his hatred of Caucasians, Asians, and "Uncle Tom Negroes." Kunstler and Kuby held that Ferguson's behavior could be tied to a study entitled Black Rage. In this 1968 study, psychologists Price Cobbs and William Grier observed that in order to function in society, African Americans suppress feelings of intense anger over racism. Kunstler and Kuby would try to expand this thesis into a "black rage" defense, arguing that continual racist mistreatment was the catalyst that caused Ferguson's delusions and paranoia to explode into violence.

Critics accused the attorneys of manipulating the sensitive state of race relations in New York in order to excuse the acts of a cold blooded killer. Kunstler and Kuby vowed to press ahead with the "black rage" defense. Their strategy, however, accepted that Ferguson was the killer and that he was mentally unsound. Ferguson rejected both assumptions.

Ferguson then decided to act as his own attorney, against the advice of his lawyers and Nassau County District Judge Donald Belfi. Because Judge Belfi reaffirmed the mental competency finding on December 9, Ferguson was entitled to represent himself, even though he had no legal training. Furthermore, because the defendant was considered legally sane, Judge Belfi was required to provide the indigent Ferguson with county funds to pay for a private investigator to find "the real killer."

"What we will have now is a complete circus," predicted Kuby.

Although Ferguson dismissed Kunstler and Kuby, he continued to telephone them for advice. Nevertheless Ferguson decided that his only legal advisor in court would be Alton Rose, a Jamaican-born attorney who had known the defendant when he was a young man. Since emotions surrounding the case were so high, Rose made a motion to have the trial moved outside of Nassau County. An appeals court refused, holding that Ferguson, not Rose, would have to make such a request.

Opening statements in the trial began on January 26, 1995, in Mineola, New York. Wearing a bulletproof vest under a handsome suit and speaking evenly, Ferguson said that as the commuter train made its way out of New York City, he had dozed off and someone had stolen his gun and opened fire on the passengers. "Mr. Ferguson was awakened by the gunfire and, amid the confusion, sought to protect himself," Ferguson said, speaking of himself in the third person to an increasingly strange effect in the courtroom. Ferguson told the jury that the charges against him were a racist conspiracy.

Prosecutors produced police photos of victims lying in pools of blood, there were shell casings and bullet holes in the railroad car. Averting his eyes from the pictures, Ferguson objected that the photos were prejudicial in nature, but the judge overruled him.

The pistol wrestled from Ferguson was entered as evidence. As prosecutors passed the weapon back and forth in front of the jury, Ferguson objected when he was not allowed to hold the gun. The judge sent the jury out of the room.

"By not being allowed to hold the weapon, the jurors are given the impression that the court has already made up its mind about my guilt or innocence," Ferguson said. "Therefore, I move for a mistrial."

"This is one of the pitfalls of self-representation," replied Judge Belfi. "No defendant can handle a weapon. You were not singled out. Motion denied."

Survivors of the massacre began to testify. Television viewers across the nation watched incredulously as Ferguson questioned the people he was accused of shooting at point-blank range. Far from appearing terrified, however, most of the victims responded to Ferguson's bizarre queries unflinchingly.

Mary Anne Phillips, the first gunshot victim, testified that she had played dead after she was wounded. Ferguson asked if she kept her eyes closed.

"Yes," replied Phillips, "so you wouldn't come back and shoot me again."

Elizabeth Aviles similarly refused to be intimidated by the man who had shot her in the back. When Ferguson pressed Aviles to describe the gunman, she responded angrily, "I saw you shooting everyone on the train, okay?"

As the trial progressed, the eloquence of Ferguson's frequent objections led many to wonder if he was a crazy man mounting an able defense or a sane man cultivating an appearance of insanity, cynically paving the way for future appeals. He accused the Jewish Defense League of conspiring to kill him and said that the prison murder of cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was a rehearsal for his own death behind bars.

Ferguson made a request to subpoena U.S. President Bill Clinton, because the president had personally commended the bravery of George Blum, Michael O'Connor, and Mark McEntee—the three men who subdued the killer at the time of the shootings. The request was denied. Ferguson also argued that the indictment against him contained 93 counts only because the shootings occurred in 1993. "Had it been 1925," Ferguson said, "it would have been 25 counts."

Outside of court, a New York exorcist claimed that the CIA had kidnapped Ferguson and implanted a computer chip in his brain, activating it with an order to kill. Ferguson considered calling the exorcist as a witness, but decided against it. Although he was entitled to do so, Ferguson rested his case without calling the defendant he habitually referred to as "Colin Ferguson" to the stand. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband Dennis had been killed and her son critically wounded in the railroad shootings, described Ferguson as a coward for not taking the stand.

On February 17, the jury considered the case for ten hours. When the jurors returned to court, they acquitted Ferguson on 25 counts of aggravated harassment, returnedbut found him guilty of all the other charges, on25countsincluding multiple counts of murder, attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and weapons possession. There had never been any doubt about Ferguson's guilt, said the jury foreman, who explained that the long deliberations concerned the less serious harassment counts.

To attorneys Kunstler and Kuby, Ferguson agreed to pursue an appeal based on grounds that he never should have been found mentally competent to stand trial. To Attorney Rose, however, Ferguson maintained that he was mentally sound. Rose announced that he would not represent Ferguson during any appeals and would ask the state to appoint a public defender to represent his indigent client after sentencing.

On March 21, survivors and family members of the dead filled the court to testify during sentencing recommendations. For two days, people directly touched by the railroad massacre asked Judge Belfi to punish Ferguson severely for the suffering he had inflicted. Robert Giugliano, whom Ferguson had shot in the chest, lunged at the defendant.

"Look at these eyes," shouted Giugliano. "You can't! You're nothing but a piece of garbage!"

When Ferguson accused the wounded of plotting with police against him, victims and their families turned their backs and filed out of the courtroom. Visibly aghast at Ferguson's insensitivity, Attorney Rose asked the judge if he could also leave the room. Judge Belfi denied the request. As Rose sat exasperated beside him, Ferguson declared his innocence in another rambling monologue, which lasted for hours.

"John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, a humble man, and he was put into prison," Ferguson said. "He was beheaded by a criminal justice system similar to this. After his death, we can look back and say with 20-20 hindsight, 'This was a great man.' And as much as I'm hated in Nassau County and America, I believe there are persons that are strengthened by me and my stand."

Judge Belfi saw things differently. "Colin Ferguson, in my almost 21 years on the bench, I have never presided over a trial with a more selfish and selfcentered defendant," the judge said before a packed courtroom. "The vicious acts you committed on December 7, 1993, were the acts of a coward."

During the trial the New York State Legislature had re-instituted the death penalty for murder. However, Ferguson would not face execution because his crimes occurred before the law was passed. "Unfortunately, this new law cannot be applied to you," Judge Belfi told Ferguson. "The court is, however, empowered to mete out a sentence equivalent to life without parole."

Noting the killer's "total lack of remorse," Judge Belfi sentenced Ferguson to six consecutive 25-years-to-life terms, one for each count of murder. The judge also gave Ferguson 25-year sentences for each of 19 counts of attempted murder—for a total of 475 years. But prison terms for multiple convictions of attempted murder are limited by New York law to a total of 50 years. Thus, Ferguson's combined sentences added up to 200 years. His victims and their families cheered as the sentence was read.

Ferguson appealed his conviction, asking for legal counsel this time. However, in December 1998, the New York Court of Appeals refused Ferguson's request for a new trial.

Colin Ferguson's killing spree opened the debate on the issue of gun control. The widow of one of his victim's, Carolyn McCarthy, became a crusader for stricter gun control laws. A retired nurse, McCarthy became a fervent activist for the issue and ran for a seat in Congress in 1996. Campaigning primarily on the basis of tighter regulations on the availability of guns, the political novice won, stunning many observers and proving that the populace agreed with her views.

 
 

Chronology:

14 Jan 1958 Colin Ferguson born, Jamaica.
 
???? Attends Calabar High School, Kingston Jamaica.
 
16 Apr 1978 Father, Von Herman Ferguson, dies in an head-on automobile collision with a bus.
 
Aug 1979 Enrolls, Institute of Management and Production, Kingston Jamaica.
 
Oct 1982 Moves to United States.
 
Nov 1984 Robbed at gunpoint, while working the register at a liquor store.
 
1985 Mother dies in Jamaica. Colin does not attend her funeral.
 
13 May 1986 Marries Audrey Warren.
 
May 1988 Audrey Warren files for divorce, obtains custody of their only child.
 
18 Apr 1989 Injured at work, as he falls from a stool.
 
1990 Enrolls at Adelphi University.
 
Jun 1991 Suspended from Adelphi University.
 
Feb 1992 Arrested on New York City Subway, harassment of a woman passenger.
 
Sep 1992 Receives a $26,250 workers compensation settlement.
 
9 May 1993 Purchases a 9mm Luger P89, $299.99. Also buys four boxes of hollowpoint bullets.
 
7 Dec 1993 Kills 6 people, wounds 18 others, on the Long Island Railroad.
 
1994 Fistfight in prison with murderer Joel Rifkin over whose killings were better.
 
4 Mar 1996 A meritless lawsuit filed by victims' families against Olin, manufacturer of Black Talon ammunition, and Ruger, manufacturer of the gun Ferguson used in the killings, is dismissed because it would involve a wholesale expansion of tort law. McCarthy v. Sturm, Ruger and Co., Inc., 916 F.Supp. 366 (S.D.N.Y. 1996)
 

 

 
 
 
 
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