Frank James, the public-safety troll accused of shooting up a New York City subway before leading police on a 30-hour manhunt last month that ended when he called the cops on himself, pleaded not guilty on Friday.
James, 62, has been indicted on two counts, including federal terrorism against a mass transit system, for a terrifying attack in a subway car in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, on April 12, that injured at least two-dozen people. Authorities say James, who was dressed in an orange reflective jacket and yellow hard hat, let off two smoke bombs and opened fire. He allegedly used a Glock 17 pistol bought in Ohio and struck 10 people on the Manhattan-bound N subway train, one of the worst attacks on public transit in decades. Others were hurt in the ensuing chaos.
Miraculously, no one was killed.
During his brief 20-minute arraignment in Brooklyn federal court on Friday, James sat very still at the defense table as Judge William Kuntz asked him if he understood the details of the indictment. Two U.S. court marshals sat behind James, who was wearing a khaki prison jumpsuit and a blue mask below his nose.
“Pretty good,” James responded at one point to a question about how he was doing, before the judge asked him to detail his education history and competence to stand trial.
As Kuntz read his indictment, James followed along with a printed copy with his lone federal defender.
When asked how he pleaded to the counts against him, James leaned into the microphone and clearly stated “not guilty.”
If convicted, James faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Mia Eisner-Grynberg, a federal defender for James, declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment outside court.
While any definitive motive for the grisly attack remains unclear, prosecutors have noted James was prone to ugly, politically-charged rants on social media, including one in which he disparaged the New York City subway system and Mayor Eric Adams.
“What are you doing, brother? What’s happening with this homeless situation?” James said in one video. “Every car I went to wa[s] loaded with homeless people. It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand.”
Prosecutors allege that after the incident, James fled the scene of the shooting but left behind a wealth of evidence. The haul included the 9mm Glock, three extended-capacity magazines, a backpack, a bag of fireworks and smoke canisters, a hatchet, a spray bottle of gasoline, and a credit card used to rent a U-Haul truck in Philadelphia.
Cops say he also left behind an orange jacket with reflective tape on the subway platform with a receipt in one of the pockets for a storage unit in Philadelphia, which became crucial to identifying him.
“Records from Lyft revealed that James visited the storage facility at approximately 6:17 p.m. on April 11, 2022, the day before the attack,” the complaint states.
Investigators say they searched the storage unit and found “9mm ammunition, a threaded 9mm pistol barrel that allows for a silencer or suppresser [sic] to be attached, targets, and .223 caliber ammunition, which is used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.”
At an apartment James rented in Philadelphia for 15 days, the complaint states that investigators also found “an empty magazine for a Glock handgun, a taser, a high-capacity rifle magazine, and a blue smoke cannister [sic].”
Police say James rented a U-Haul in Philadelphia days prior to the incident with the same credit card. The vehicle was found in Brooklyn, about five miles from the scene of the shooting.
Once investigators established James’ identity, they dug into his history. NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig previously told reporters that he had nine prior arrests in New York City between 1992 and 1998, including possession of burglary tools, criminal sex acts, theft of services, and criminal tampering. He also has a criminal history in Wisconsin and New Jersey, where he had previously lived.
None of the offenses were felonies, meaning the 9mm Glock he allegedly used in the attack was obtained legally. The Columbus Police Department confirmed to The Daily Beast that James bought the gun over the internet 11 years ago in Ohio. In order to comply with state laws, he had it sent to a local pawn shop, according to Jeff Brant, an officer with the department’s property recovery unit.
As authorities dug into James’ history, they came across multiple unhinged videos on his YouTube and Facebook in which he threatened violence and opined on his mental-health struggles, the criminal complaint notes. In YouTube videos posted before the attack, James also made racist comments and spouted conspiracy theories.
In one video, James said: “And so the message to me is: I should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting motherfuckers.”
Despite the clues and voluminous footprint, it was the suspect himself who ultimately tipped off authorities to his location—calling CrimeStoppers from a local McDonalds to end the manhunt. Two law-enforcement sources previously told The Daily Beast that James called from the fast food joint but left before cops arrived.
Three “Good Samaritans,” one of whom was identified as a 21-year-old camera installer named Zach, also spotted him a couple of blocks away and flagged down the officers, the officials said.