We all know what December 7th commemorates. (At least, I hope you do..."a date which will live in infamy," as President Roosevelt said.)
Howevever, other events took place on this day as well. And I remember this one because I was living in New York City at the time...
Long Island Rail Road Shooting
Colin Ferguson opens fire on a Long Island Railroad commuter train from New York City, killing 6 and injuring 19. Other train passengers stopped the perpetrator by tackling and holding him down.
Colin Ferguson was a mentally unbalanced man from Jamaica who spent years on the West Coast before coming to New York in 1993. On December 7, he boarded a 5:33 p.m. train out of Penn Station carrying an automatic pistol, and as the train pulled into Garden City, Ferguson began running down the aisle and shooting passengers at random.
Famous defense attorney William Kunstler initially represented Ferguson, but his strategy of arguing that Ferguson was not responsible due to "black rage" infuriated even Ferguson himself. After firing Kunstler, Ferguson decided to act as his own lawyer.
In the resulting trial, which took place in January and February 1996, Ferguson opened by claiming that he was not the shooter. He argued that a white man had stolen his gun and shot the commuters, then pinned the crime on Ferguson. But he later changed his story, stating that a man who shared Ferguson's name and facial features was the real killer.
When Ferguson asked nearly all of the surviving victims, in turn, to identify the killer under oath, they each pinned the blame squarely on him. After the judge denied Ferguson's request that President Clinton and Governor Cuomo testify, Ferguson decided to forego his own right to testify. On February 17, 1996, the jury convicted Ferguson of 6 counts of murder and 22 counts of attempted murder. He received six life terms and will not be eligible for parole.
A few interesting follow-ups from that incident:
1. Ferguson was clearly not playing with a full deck, as evidenced by his behavior as his own lawyer. I remember a lot of people asking the psychiatrist who interviewed Ferguson how he could possibly have declared Ferguson sane. His reasonable reply was that he never said Ferguson was sane; he said that Ferguson was competent to stand trial, meaning that he did possess a clear understanding of right and wrong.
2. Long Island nurse Carolyn McCarthy lost her husband Dennis in the shooting, and her son Kevin was partially paralyzed by a shot to the head. McCarthy ended up running for Congress as a gun control activist. She continues to represent New York's Fourth Congressional District, and just won her fifth term.
3. While Ferguson was on trial and in jail, somehow or other he ended up calling NYU Law School, where my younger brother was a student at the time, and was connected to him. Still not sure how or why that happened.