|“||Kill everybody white!||”|
Colin Ferguson was a Jamaican-born American "wound collector"-type mass murderer responsible for the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting, which left nine people dead and nineteen others injured. He defended himself in court claiming his acts were the effects of an alleged psychiatric condition named "black rage".
He was born in Kingston, Colony of Jamaica, on January 14, 1958, to Von Herman and May Ferguson. Von Herman, a wealthy pharmacist and the managing director of the large pharmaceutical company Hercules Agencies, was described by Time magazine as "one of the most prominent businessmen in Jamaica". Ferguson's family, including four brothers, lived in a two-story home with a nanny and a housekeeper in the Kingston suburb of Havendale. Ferguson attended the Calabar High School there from 1969 to 1974, where the principal at the time described him as a "well-rounded student" who played cricket and soccer. He graduated in the top third of his class.
In 1978, when Ferguson was 20 years old, Von Herman was killed in a car crash; his funeral was attended by government and military luminaries. Ferguson's mother died from cancer soon afterward. The deaths destroyed the family's fortunes. Family friends said this deeply disturbed Ferguson; he moved to the United States in 1982 on a visitor's visa. His friends supposed that he had trouble dealing with racism in America and that he felt frustrated because he couldn't find work outside of menial jobs.
Ferguson met Audrey Warren, a native of Southampton County, Virginia, and married her on May 13, 1986, qualifying him for permanent U.S. residence. Ferguson and Warren moved to a house on Long Island, where they often fought, sometimes to the point that police intervention was required. On May 18, 1988, Warren obtained an uncontested divorce from Ferguson, claiming the marriage ended because they had "differing social views". Acquaintances said Warren left Ferguson because he was "too aggressive or antagonistic" for her, and that the divorce was a "crushing blow" to Ferguson. He got a job doing clerical work for the Ademco Security Group in Syosset, New York, a hamlet of the North Shore of Long Island. On August 18, 1989, while standing on a stool to reach invoices from a filing cabinet, Ferguson slipped and fell, injuring his head, neck and back. The injury led to his termination. He filed a complaint with the New York State Workers' Compensation Board, which reviewed the matter over the next several years. Ferguson enrolled at Nassau Community College in East Garden City, where he made the dean's list three times. Also that year, he was forced to leave a class after a disciplinary hearing board found he had acted overly aggressively toward the teacher.
In late 1990, Ferguson transferred to Adelphi University in Garden City, where he majored in business administration. Ferguson spoke out against coexistence with whites and routinely made calls for retributive revolution. Ferguson regularly accused others around him of racism. During one occasion, Ferguson complained that a white woman in the library shouted racial epithets at him after he asked her about a class assignment. An investigation concluded the incident never occurred. Later, Ferguson attended a symposium by a faculty member discussing her experiences in South Africa. Ferguson interrupted the professor by shouting; "we should be talking about the revolution in South Africa and how to get rid of the white people" and "Kill everybody white!" When students and teachers tried to quiet him, Ferguson started threatening them, repeatedly saying; "the black revolution will get you." He was suspended from the school in June 1991 as a result of the threats, and although he was free to reapply after the suspension, he chose not to do so.
In 1991, Ferguson rented a room in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was unemployed. Ferguson lived around many other West Indian immigrants. Neighbors said he dressed very neatly, but kept to himself and rarely smiled or spoke to anybody, except occasionally to say hello."He had delusions of grandeur," his landlord Patrick Denis later recounted in a description of Ferguson's attitude at the time. "He felt like, 'I'm such a great person. There must be only one thing holding me back. It must be white people.' "In 1992, Ferguson's ex-wife Audrey Warren filed a complaint with police alleging Ferguson pried open the trunk of her car. Prior to the incident, Warren had not seen him since the divorce. In February 1992, Ferguson was arrested and charged with harassing a woman on a subway. The woman tried to sit in a vacant seat alongside Ferguson and asked him to move over, prompting Ferguson to scream at her and press his leg and elbow against her until police officers pinned him to the ground. Ferguson tried to escape the police and shouted; "brothers, come help me!"Ferguson sent letters to the New York City Police Commissioner and other officials complaining about his arrest, describing it as "viscous [sic] and racist", and claiming he was brutalized by the officers who arrested him. The New York City Transit Authority investigated and dismissed the claims.
In September 1992, Ferguson was awarded $26,250 for his workers' compensation claim against Ademco Security Group. In April 1993, Ferguson insisted he was still in pain and demanded the case be reopened so he could get more money for medical treatment. In the following weeks, he visited a Manhattan law firm for a consultation. Lauren Abramson, an attorney with the firm, said she immediately felt uncomfortable and threatened by Ferguson. She asked a law clerk to sit in on the meeting because; "I did not want to be alone with him", something Abramson said she had never done before. Although Ferguson was neatly dressed during the consultation, he acted strangely and identified himself by a false name before providing his real name. Months later, Ferguson made threatening calls to members of the firm, claiming they were discriminating against him. In one of the calls, he made reference to a massacre which occurred in California. The calls prompted the lawyers to start locking their inner office doors out of fear. Ferguson tried to have his workers' compensation claim reopened by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board, which reexamined the case due to his persistence, but it was ultimately rejected. The board placed Ferguson on a list of potentially dangerous people security guards were to watch out for.
In April 1993, Ferguson moved to California in search of new career opportunities. He unsuccessfully applied for several jobs, including a car wash, where the manager laughed at him. Ferguson purchased a Ruger P89 9×19mm pistol at a Turner's Outdoorsman in Long Beach for $400, after waiting the 15-day period required under California's gun laws. Ferguson presented himself as a California resident by providing a driver's license he received two months earlier, which had an address of the Long Beach motel where he stayed. After Ferguson was robbed by two men, he started carrying the gun with him in a paper bag. Ferguson moved back to New York City in May 1993, because, he told a friend, he did not like competing with immigrants and Hispanics for jobs. Denis, his Flatbush landlord, said Ferguson appeared even more unstable upon his return, speaking in the third person about; "some apocryphal-type doom scenario" which included black people rising up and striking down "their pompous rulers and oppressors". Ferguson started taking five showers a day and could be heard by neighbors repeatedly chanting at night; "all the black people killing all the white people". Denis became increasingly concerned about Ferguson's obsession with racism and apparent growing mental instability, and asked Ferguson to move out by the end of the month.
Shooting and Arrest
On December 7, 1993, Ferguson purchased a ticket for the 5:33 p.m. eastbound train at the Flatbush Avenue station in Brooklyn. This train stopped at the Jamaica station in Queens. Ferguson boarded the third car of the eastbound Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuter train from Penn Station to Hicksville, along with more than 80 other passengers. Ferguson, who sat on the southwestern end of the car, was carrying his handgun and a canvas bag filled with 160 rounds of ammunition.
As the train approached the Merillon Avenue station, Ferguson drew the gun, dropped several cartridges on the ground, stood up, and opened fire at random. During the next three minutes, Ferguson killed six people and injured another 19. Some passengers mistook the gunshots for caps or fireworks until a woman shouted; "he's got a gun! He's shooting people!" Ferguson walked east on the train, pulling the trigger steadily about every half second. Several passengers tried to hide beneath their seats, while others fled to the eastern end of the train and tried to enter the next car. Ferguson walked down the aisle of the train and shot people to his right and left as he passed each seat, briefly facing each victim before firing. The New York Times later wrote the motions were "as methodical as if he were taking tickets". Ferguson said, "I'm going to get you," over and over as he walked down the aisle.
Other passengers farther away in the train did not realize a shooting had occurred until after the train stopped. As a crowd of panicked passengers fled from the third car into neighboring cars, one man appeared annoyed by their unruliness and said; "be calm", before they forced a train door open and fled into the station. Two people were injured in the stampede of passengers. After the train's conductor was informed of the shooting, he decided against opening the train doors right away because two of the cars were not yet at the platform. An announcement ordering conductors not to open the doors was made; however, engineer Thomas Silhan climbed out the window of his cab and opened each door from the outside so panicked passengers could escape.
Ferguson had emptied two 15-round magazines during the shooting. While he was reloading his third magazine, somebody yelled; "grab him!" Three passengers - Michael O'Connor, Kevin Blum, and Mark McEntee - tackled Ferguson and pinned him to one of the train's seats. Several other passengers ran forward to grab his arms and legs and help hold him pinned across a three-seat row with his head towards the window and legs towards the aisle. While he was pinned, Ferguson said; "oh God, what did I do? What did I do? I deserve whatever I get." He also repeatedly pleaded with those holding him; "don't shoot me. I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Five to six people continued to hold him pinned for some time while they awaited relief. While those who had not tackled him, but were holding him down, inquired as to the location of the gun, they were assured that it had been kicked away and that there had only been one gunman. Most, if not all passengers still in the car were concerned that no further violence take place and that the shooter be held rather than attacked. He was held down for several minutes. Soon, Andrew Roderick, an off-duty Long Island Rail Road police officer who was picking up his wife from the train, boarded the train car and handcuffed Ferguson.
Trial and Incarceration
Anthony J. Falanga was appointed Ferguson's attorney on December 11, 1993. Falanga called for his client to receive a psychiatric evaluation. Under New York state law, an insanity defense would require Ferguson's lawyers to prove he suffers from a mental disease or defect and, as a result, could not tell whether his actions were right or wrong. At the time, lawyers and mental health experts said such a defense would be difficult because Ferguson appeared to have carefully planned the attacks, and because he said; "oh God, what did I do" after he was stopped. However, media outlets and legal experts at the time speculated a defense could argue Ferguson suffered from paranoia, particularly based on Ferguson's history of irrational racism allegations and claims that whites were discriminating against him. Ferguson was placed on suicide watch in the Nassau County Jail.
On December 18, 1993 Ferguson asked a judge to let him replace Falanga with Colin A. Moore, a Brooklyn-based attorney with a reputation for pursuing allegations of racism in the criminal-justice system. Moore offered to represent Ferguson pro bono. Before a ruling was even made on the request, Moore held a press conference announcing he would seek a change of venue to Brooklyn, claiming it was impossible for Ferguson to receive a fair trial in a Nassau court due to a "severe underrepresentation of African-Americans on the Nassau County jury panel". Later, Moore withdrew his offer to represent Ferguson, citing conflicts he did not explain. Ferguson told a judge he questioned Falanga's integrity, disagreed with his handling of the case and had no intention of cooperating with him. Dr. Allen Reichman, a psychiatrist who interviewed Ferguson, indicated in his report that Ferguson may have been feigning mental illness when he spoke of conspiracies against him. Reichman said Ferguson's assertions were "vague and somewhat evasive", in contrast to the normally detailed and highly focused nature of systematized paranoid delusional thinking. On January 5, 1994, a report by a court-appointed psychologist and psychiatrist concluded Ferguson was suffering from paranoid personality disorder but was competent to stand trial.
On January 19, 1994, after three days of evidence presentation, a grand jury handed up a 93-count indictment against Ferguson, which carried the possibility of up to 175 years in prison. Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said of the sentence maximum; "it's not quite infinity, but it will do." Dillon also announced he would not agree to any plea bargain in the case. The indictment included two counts of murder for each slain victim, both for intentional murder and for depraved indifference to human life. It also included 19 counts of attempted murder, 34 counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, intent to use the weapon, violation of civil rights of each of the 25 victims and "intent to harass, annoy, threaten and alarm" the victims "because of their race, color or national origin".
William Kunstler (pictured) and his law partner, Ron Kuby, agreed to provide Colin Ferguson free legal representation
On March 1, 1994, William Kunstler and Ron Kuby, law partners known for representing unpopular clients, announced they had accepted a request by Ferguson to handle his case. Kunstler, who said he would not collect a fee for the defense, said Ferguson had been made out to be a "pariah" by the media and public. In April 1994, District Attorney Dillon sought a gag order for all lawyers involved in the case, arguing Kunstler and Kuby had made statements to the media that might be inadmissible during the trial and could influence potential jurors. Kunstler and Kuby argued they would have no problem finding 12 unbiased jurors and claimed Ferguson had already been publicly attacked in the press by government and police officials. Nassau County Judge Donald E. Belfi rejected the gag order on April 23, claiming the impact of inflammatory statements already made by lawyers, politicians and police would fade in the months before the trial begins. However, Belfi warned attorneys from both sides to follow a State Court professional disciplinary rule that already limits their comments to news organizations.
Shortly after his incarceration began, Ferguson complained about his treatment, claiming correction officers attacked him with milk crates and a fire extinguisher, while depriving him of necessities like soap and antiperspirant spray. Ferguson said; "of course, there is no sympathy for me in the institution. When I suffered and screamed I was told that it was a good sign by the prison guards because they were hoping for my swift departure from life." Later, Ron Kuby argued Ferguson had been a frequent target of harassment at the Nassau County jail, and requested the United States Department of Justice intervene to ensure Ferguson's safety.
On March 23, 1994, while returning to his cell from the medical unit, Ferguson was attacked in jail by a group of inmates. Ferguson suffered a broken nose and a swollen left eye. Prison officials had been notified by Kuby that an assault was imminent, and were in the process of following up on the warning when Ferguson was attacked. Kuby, who said he had been warned of the attack by another inmate, stated "the word was out. Everyone in the institution knew he was going to be set up." Kuby called the attack racially motivated, and later alleged some jail officials and guards had advance knowledge of the impending assault. Five inmates were charged with second-degree assault for their connection in the attack.
In November 1994, Ferguson's lawyers claimed prison guards taunted him with claims that the election of Governor George Pataki, a death penalty supporter, meant Ferguson would be executed if found guilty. Ferguson's lawyers claimed prison guards showed him the headlines of newspaper stories about Pataki and claimed Ferguson was "headed for electrocution sometime soon." Ferguson was deeply troubled by the claims, despite assurances from his attorneys that the death penalty could only be imposed in crimes committed after a capital punishment bill became law. Ferguson was not reassured until after a judge told him the same thing, at the request of Kunstler.
Kunstler and Kuby proposed an innovative defense; Ferguson had been driven to temporary insanity by a psychiatric condition they termed "black rage". Kunstler and Kuby argued Ferguson had been driven insane by racial prejudice, and could not be held criminally liable for his actions even though he had committed the killings. The attorneys compared it to the utilization of the battered woman defense, posttraumatic stress disorder and the child abuse syndrome in other cases to negate criminal liability. Kuby said the notes carried by Ferguson on the day of his arrest demonstrated that Ferguson was motivated by rage during the shootings. Donald E. Belfi, the Nassau County Judge assigned to the Ferguson case, criticized Kunstler for speaking to the media about the proposed defense before it had been examined by a mental health professional. Belfi said "Mr. Kunstler may have many talents, but until he receives his medical degree with a specialty in psychiatry, these types of conclusions should best be left for medical experts and the triers of the facts."
Black rage was first proposed by psychologists William Henry Grier and Price Cobbs in their 1968 book, Black Rage. Grier and Cobbs argue that black people living in a racist, white supremacist society are psychologically damaged by the effects of racist oppression. They argue that this damage causes black people to act abnormally in certain situations.
Ferguson started to claim he was not involved in the Long Island Rail Road shootings at all, and repeatedly refused to meet with a psychiatrist chosen by Kunstler and Kuby. Ferguson told the attorneys he was receiving messages straight from God, and spoke of conspiracies to destroy him by those opposed to God. On August 12, 1994 Kunstler and Kuby asked Judge Belfi to reconsider Ferguson's competence to stand trial, claiming he was growing more delusional, paranoid and obsessive by the day, and that he was too mentally unbalanced for them to mount any kind of defense. George Peck, the prosecutor in Ferguson's trial, insisted Ferguson's apparent lack of cooperation with his lawyers was a defense tactic to avoid a trial.
On August 20, 1994, Ferguson appeared before Belfi and rejected his lawyer's efforts to have him declared mentally unfit to stand trial. Ferguson spoke in a long and rambling manner, occasionally ignoring Belfi when the judge tried to interrupt him. Ferguson claimed a police officer who escorted him from the Nassau County Jail said to him; "you realize someone else, in fact, was actually responsible for the shooting." When asked if Ferguson understood the role of the prosecuting attorney, Ferguson replied; "to perpetrate injustices against me." Kunstler and Kuby argued Ferguson's behavior was indicative of his mental imbalance. But Belfi refused the lawyers' request to reconsider his competence, citing the original psychiatric report that concluded Ferguson was able to understand the charges against him and was "malingering in an attempt to create an impression" that he was mentally imbalanced and unable to cooperate with his attorney. When Belfi ended the proceeding, Ferguson tried to continue talking. After he was placed into handcuffs by guards, Ferguson shouted; "they have made it too tight", and collapsed to the floor, and had to be dragged from the courtroom. Denis Dillon suggested Kunstler was trying to create "such a bizarre situation" that the court would reverse its earlier ruling regarding Ferguson's competence.
On September 20, 1994, Kunstler and Kuby filed notice that they would pursue an insanity defense despite the objections of their client. Ferguson continued to claim he was not involved in the shootings and proposed defending himself during the trial. In the following months, Ferguson sent Judge Belfi several letters regarding disputes between Ferguson, Kunstler and Kuby. Ferguson claimed in the letters that he was not insane, and rejected Kunstler's and Kuby's "black rage" defense. Although George Peck argued the letters proved Ferguson was able to understand the charges against him and was actively participating in his defense, Kuby argued the letters only further demonstrated Ferguson's confused state of mind. On November 11, Ferguson agreed he would stop resisting efforts to meet with a court-appointed psychiatrist. As a result, Judge Belfi agreed to hold a third hearing as to whether Ferguson was mentally competent to stand trial.
On December 10, 1994 Judge Belfi ruled Ferguson was competent to stand trial. Belfi said he based his decision in part on his conversations with Ferguson in the courtroom, including Ferguson's concern over Governor Pataki's promise to sign a death-penalty bill. Belfi strongly advised Ferguson against defending himself, but Ferguson said he intended to defend himself. Kuby said of the decision, "what we will have now is a complete circus. A crazy man cannot defend himself. Mr. Ferguson, evidence to the contrary, believes he is not guilty and that someone else killed all those people aboard the train." Kuby continued; "without a psychiatric defense, Ferguson has no defense. There was no doubt that he was there, that he fired the weapon, that he would have fired it more had he not been wrestled to the ground. There is no doubt that Colin Ferguson, if sane, was guilty."
Ferguson's trial proved to be bizarre, as he cross-examined the police officers that arrested him and victims he shot. It was broadcast live by local media and Court TV, but was overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson murder case, going on simultaneously on the West Coast.
Ferguson argued that the 93 counts he was charged with were related to the year 1993, and had it been 1925 he would have been charged with only 25 counts. He admitted bringing the gun onto the train, but claimed he fell asleep, and another man grabbed his gun and began firing. He also argued of a mysterious man named Mr. Su , who had information concerning a conspiracy against him. He also found another man who was willing to testify the government implanted a computer chip in Ferguson's brain, but at the last minute decided not to call him to the stand. This individual, Raul Diaz, was a parapsychologist from Manhattan and claimed during a press conference on the courthouse steps to have witnessed an Oriental man press a chip into Ferguson's head prior to the attack. According to Diaz, the Oriental man told him to behold what he was about to do prior to pushing the button. "He was lasered out by a remote-control device," Diaz told reporters outside the courtroom. "He was zapped, just like that, right out of the twilight zone" and was "commanded to go up and down the aisle shooting people."
His cross-examination questions mostly started with; "is it your testimony..." and would simply force the witness to repeat testimony already given. When a witness refused to answer the question to his satisfaction he would often ask the judge to "admonish the witness to answer the question." During the course of his cross-examinations, Ferguson would refer to himself in the third person, most particularly asking the victims of the shooting; "did you see Colin Ferguson ..." to which the witness would reply "I saw you shoot me." Legal experts pointed out that Ferguson's questions were pointless and were not geared towards rebutting testimony. By not recognizing when to object to testimony and closing arguments, he lost his right to appeal on those grounds. Among the defense witnesses Ferguson requested was President Bill Clinton.
Ferguson originally sought to question himself on the witness stand, but ultimately did not do so. He told the judge and media outlets he intended to call a number of witnesses who would prove his innocence, including a ballistic expert, a handwriting expert and two regular eyewitnesses, but they were afraid to come forward and take the stand. Ultimately, he did not call any of the witnesses. He also told Judge Belfi of an alleged conspiracy by the Jewish Defense League to kill him in prison if he was convicted. He said the prison slaying of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was "set up as a prelude against me".
Ferguson was convicted on February 17, 1995, of murder of the six passengers who died of their injuries. He was also convicted of attempted murder for wounding nineteen passengers. He received 315 years and eight months to life, meaning his current earliest possible parole date is August 6, 2309. The judge said "Colin Ferguson will never return to society, and will spend the rest of his natural life in prison." At the sentencing, Judge Donald E. Belfi called Ferguson a "selfish, self-righteous coward." He also used the sentencing as an opportunity to criticize New York's controversial Sentencing Cap Law, which would have capped Ferguson's sentence at 50 years had no one died in the massacre because all of the felonies he committed on the train were part of one occurrence, therefore all sentences would have been served concurrently and capped at 50 years. After his conviction, Ferguson was put in the position to argue in appellate briefs that he had incompetent counsel (himself).
After his sentencing, Ferguson was incarcerated for a time at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York. As of 2013, he is serving his sentence in the maximum security Upstate Correctional Facility, located in the northernmost part of the state.
In 1994, Ferguson was apparently involved in a fistfight with fellow inmate Joel Rifkin. The brawl began when Ferguson asked Rifkin to be quiet while Ferguson was using the telephone. The New York Daily News reported the fight escalated after Ferguson told Rifkin, "I wiped out six devils, and you only killed women," to which Rifkin responded; "yeah, but I had more victims." Ferguson then punched Rifkin in the mouth.
Carolyn McCarthy—whose husband Dennis McCarthy was killed by Ferguson, and whose son Kevin McCarthy was severely injured—was subsequently elected to the United States Congress, on a platform of gun control. She was motivated to run for Congress after the representative in her district Dan Frisa voted against an assault weapons bill. Some of Ferguson's other victims and their family members have also become involved in gun control efforts.
McCarthy also sued Olin Corporation, the parent of Winchester Ammunition under products liability and negligence theories for their manufacture of the Black Talon bullets used by Ferguson. The cartridges carry hollow-tipped bullets that expand upon impact, increasing the severity of wounds. One month before the Ferguson shootings, Winchester Ammunition announced they were voluntarily withdrawing the Black Talon cartridges from the market. McCarthy's suit failed for numerous reasons, most notably because New York State law placed no responsibility on manufacturers for the criminal misuse of their products.
At least a half-dozen lawsuits related to the shootings were filed against the Long Island Rail Road and its parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Carolyn McCarthy filed a $36 million damage lawsuit against the two entities, claiming they failed to provide adequate protection for passengers and should have installed metal detectors and used undercover police officers. The suit sought $1 million for Dennis McCarthy's pain and suffering, $10 million for his death and for damages to survivors, and $25 million for injuries to Kevin McCarthy.
Modus OperandiFerguson targeted commuters and shot them with a Ruger P-89 9mm pistol equipped with Black Talon hollow-point bullets.
Ferguson was diagnosed to suffer from paranoid personality disorder.
- December 7, 1993: Merillon Avenue, Garden City, Long Island, New York: The Long Island Rail Road Shooting: Six killed and nineteen injured
- Amy Federicci, 27
- Jaames Gorycki, 51
- Maria Theresa Tumangan Magtoto, 30
- Dennis McCarthy, 52
- Richard Nettleton, 24
- Mi Kyung Kim, 27
- Helen Alexanderson, 31
- Alfred Casazza, 61
- Robert Guiliano, 40
- Kevin McCarthy, 26
- Maryanne Phillips, 39
- Debra Weber, 38
- John Aspel
- Frank Barker, 34
- Lisa Combatti, 33
- Jill Michel, 40
- Jeanne Norton, 24
- Leonard Schultheis, 50
- Elizabeth Avilez, 30
- John Forni
- Thomas McDermott, 70
- Mindru Sihto, 61
- Marlene Francois, 26
- Joseph Panico, 19
- Brendan Doyle, 33
On Criminal Minds
While Ferguson has yet to be directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the following unsubs:
- Season Nine