Victims' families cheer as killer of N.Y. commuters gets 200-year sentence

March 23, 1995|By New York Times News Service

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A judge sentenced Colin Ferguson yesterday to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of six people on the Long Island Rail Road and the attempted murder of 19 others.

Victims who survived the shootings and members of their families cheered and clapped as Judge Donald E. Belfi of Nassau County Court imposed the maximum sentence of 200 years to life, ending an emotional three-day sentencing hearing.

After weeks of polite silence in the face of lengthy courtroom speeches by Ferguson, who served as his own lawyer, Judge Belfi said: "Colin Ferguson, in my almost 21 years on the bench, I have never presided over a trial with a more selfish and self-centered defendant.

"The vicious acts you committed on Dec. 7, 1993, were the acts of a coward. What could be more cowardly than entering a train filled with unsuspecting, homebound commuters and systematically shooting them at point-blank range?

"What is even more remarkable is your total lack of remorse," said Judge Belfi, who had twice ruled Ferguson competent to stand trial despite arguments by Ferguson's lawyers that he is insane.

As Ferguson was led in shackles from the courtroom, his last words to the judge were: "I'm innocent. I plan to appeal."

He was sentenced to 25 years on each of six counts of murder, and 25 years on each of 19 counts of attempted murder, all to be served consecutively. But because of a state cap limiting sentences for attempted murder to a total of 50 years, the overall sentence was effectively reduced to 200 years.

On Monday, Ferguson spoke for nearly three hours, virtually reviewing his entire three-week trial and again insisting that he was not responsible for the shootings. Yesterday, as he was about to speak, the victims and their families left the courtroom en masse. Ferguson then spoke for almost two more hours, finding fault with the statements by the victims and comparing himself to the martyred saint, John the Baptist.

Earlier, one of his victims, Marlene Francois, broke down in tears as she addressed the court.

"On Dec. 7, you almost killed me," she told Ferguson. "On March 23, 1995, you continue to cause me pain because you refuse to accept responsibility for what you did."

When it came time for Ferguson to address the court, the victims and their families rose in protest and left the courtroom, leaving him standing alone beside his single remaining legal adviser, Alton G. Rose.

Mr. Rose, upset by Ferguson's lack of sensitivity toward the victims, asked the judge to let him leave the courtroom as well.

But the judge ordered Mr. Rose to remain, as Ferguson, in a wandering litany of complaints, commented about a range of subjects including television violence, world hunger and the Irish Republican Army.

Ferguson found fault with those victims who criticized him for not showing remorse. "Remorse should not be used as a litmus test for guilt," he said. "Remorse should not be an issue of justice. It's only a way for the court to satisfy its conscience.

"I continue to maintain that I was not the shooter on the train and that the shooter was a white person."

Judge Belfi noted that the state legislature had recently approved the death penalty for certain murders, but said that Ferguson's crimes were committed before the new law was enacted. "Unfortunately, this new law cannot be applied to you, Colin Ferguson," said the judge.

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