(CNN) — The man who set off a smoke bomb and opened fire on a crowded New York City subway train last year, injuring 29 people but miraculously killing none, was sentenced Thursday to 10 concurrent life terms plus a 10-year consecutive term in prison.
Frank James pleaded guilty in January in federal court to 10 counts of committing a terrorist attack or other violence against a mass transportation vehicle and an additional firearms charge in connection to the April 2022 attack.
Prosecutors had asked the judge for a life sentence, while the shooter’s attorneys asked for 18 years.
James, who was 62 at the time, put on a gas mask, set off a smoke device and fired a handgun at least 33 times on a Manhattan-bound N subway train heading through Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood during a weekday morning commute, prosecutors have said.
The smoke device caused passengers to scramble to one end of the subway car, making them easier targets for James, prosecutors said. Ten people were shot and wounded, and others were injured by the smoke or by the panicked crowds. In total, 29 people were hospitalized.
“You couldn’t see anything, but you could feel it,” said Claire Tunkel, a passenger aboard the train who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. People were rushing to the front of the car, and some fell to the ground, she noted. “You could feel the bodies.”
When the subway train pulled into the next station, people on board fled – James among them.
His disappearance set off a citywide manhunt and spurred anxiety about the safety of the city’s vital transit system. Investigators were able to connect items left behind at the scene – a credit card, a set of keys, a construction jacket and a gun – to James, and police soon publicly released his name and image.
More than 24 hours after the shooting, James called in a tip on himself to police, saying he was at a McDonalds on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was arrested on a nearby street when bystanders flagged James to arriving officers.
Prosecutor praises sentence
Speaking outside court Thursday, Breon Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said James was “justly held accountable” for the attack.
“The daily life blood of New York City is in its transit system,” he said. “It’s found in the subway cars that are responsible for safely transporting New Yorkers every single day. Frank James attempted to take that sense of safety away and inject fear and chaos into the heart of the city. While he found temporary success in his plot, due to the resilience of New Yorkers, and our relentless pursuit of justice, he ultimately failed.”
He said James planned the attack and noted that it affected not just those on the train but all New Yorkers.
“Dozens of people’s lives will forever be negatively affected because of the defendant’s heartless acts of terror,” he said. “The impact and the fear were felt beyond the direct victims in that subway car and in that station that morning. The defendant terrorized the city at large.”
A spokesperson from the district attorney’s office said James’ attorneys told the court they plan to appeal the sentence. CNN is reaching out to James’ legal representation for comment.
Prosecutors had charged James with federal terrorism counts for targeting the mass transit system, and Frank admitted fault at his guilty plea in January.
“While it was not my intention to cause death, I was aware that a death or deaths could occur as a result of my discharging a firearm in such an enclosed space as a subway car,” James said.
James’ attorneys said he accepted responsibility by essentially turning himself in.
“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,” attorneys Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Amanda David said in a January statement.
Prior to the shooting, James posted videos on YouTube discussing violence and mass shootings. He also had a criminal history, including 12 prior arrests in New York City and New Jersey for charges including a criminal sex act, theft of service and disorderly conduct, an NYPD official said last year.
Because James had no prior felony convictions, he was able to purchase a gun, the official said.
(Copyright (c) 2023 CNN. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)