Brooklyn subway shooter shares dark past as his attorney pleads for leniency

September 21, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
Share this:

An attorney for Frank Robert James, the man who unleashed terror on a crowded Brooklyn subway train, injuring 10 and inciting panic during rush hour in 2022, has sought leniency from the court ahead of sentencing.

James, 64, accepted responsibility for the crimes earlier this year, confessing to all 11 charges against him, including committing a terrorist act on a mass transit system and discharging a firearm during a violent act.

While federal prosecutors have advocated for a prison sentence ranging from 32 to 37 years, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, James’ attorney, has requested 18 years. She argues that due to James’ age, health, and the reduced life expectancy of inmates, it is doubtful he would survive the entirety of the proposed sentence.

“Mr. James is not evil. He is very, very ill,” Eisner-Grynberg wrote in her memo, pleading for a verdict that balances the understandable desire for justice with compassion.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

On that fateful day, April 12, 2022, the underground landscape transformed into a scene of chaos and horror when James released smoke bombs and fired 32 rounds from a Glock 17 pistol into an N train passing through Sunset Park. 

Gruesome videos on social media captured the aftermath, with bleeding victims and panicked passengers. According to authorities, this attack had been in the works for years.

James has not disputed the severity of his crime, acknowledging the fatal potential of his actions on the subway. However, his attorney points to a history of trauma, persistent mental illness and homelessness, combined with failed attempts to seek aid, as the forces driving James to his breaking point.

Growing up in a deeply troubled family environment in The Bronx during the 1960s and ’70s, James was predisposed to mental health challenges. The loss of an elder brother, a mother battling cancer and depression, and a physically abusive, alcoholic father provided a backdrop of tragedy and pain for James’ formative years. 

With frequent stays in psychiatric institutions and a history of violent incidents stemming from his declining mental state, James’ troubled life was punctuated by moments of clarity and stability surrounded by extended bouts of paranoia and homelessness.

His life’s downward spiral was further exacerbated by an immersion in conspiracy theories and isolation. Eisner-Grynberg describes a man consumed by paranoia, alcoholism and a detachment from reality in a series of YouTube videos, wherein he vocalized his grievances against NYC’s mental health system and even foreshadowed his intentions.

The devastating subway attack has spurred a renewed focus on subway safety, especially as New Yorkers were debating their return to public transit in the post-COVID era. It also sparked a lawsuit against Glock by a victim who claims the firearm used by James resulted in grievous injuries.

Mayor Eric Adams has since intensified his efforts to address subway homelessness, attracting both support and criticism.

Eisner-Grynberg’s plea to the court emphasizes the failures of many systems that led James to this moment, urging the court to contemplate a bigger picture than the immediate tragedy.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment