Culminating a bizarre trial, a jury on Friday found Colin Ferguson guilty of murder in the December, 1993, massacre on a Long Island Rail Road train in which six commuters were shot to death and 19 others were wounded.
Ferguson, who acted as his own counsel and pleaded not guilty over the strenuous objections of his lawyers who wanted an insanity defense, stood passively as repeated guilty counts of murder and attempted murder were read. He now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. But many of the survivors and relatives of those killed who had packed the courtroom broke down in sobs. After rendering the verdicts, the jury foreman also broke down and wept. As Ferguson was led away in handcuffs, spectators cheered.
"It's been a long 14 months, but justice has been done," said Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and her son crippled in the rampage.
Ferguson's legal adviser Alton Rose said Ferguson was "ready and prepared" to face the future.
Ferguson was found not guilty on parallel counts of "depraved indifference" in the case and also not guilty on civil rights counts. The verdicts indicated that the jury believed Ferguson deliberately targeted his victims but did not select them by race or any other factor that would violate civil rights laws.
The verdicts brought to an end an emotionally charged trial that mixed legal rhetoric with touches of the bizarre. Ferguson, who mental health professionals diagnosed as paranoid and delusional, was nevertheless judged capable of handling his own defense and allowed to question the riders he was accused of shooting. Often, in his role as defense attorney, Ferguson referred to himself in the third person.
Prosecutors charged that the 37-year-old Jamaican immigrant deliberately opened fire in the packed commuter train with a semiautomatic pistol. A dozen survivors identified him as the gunman.
"He was caught at the scene by people who witnessed him doing this," George Peck, the prosecutor, told the jurors in his closing argument. " . . . Mr. Ferguson would indicate everyone is against him. In reality, he is against the world."
"Vindicate Mr. Ferguson. Do not destroy his life more than it has already been destroyed," Ferguson told the jurors in a rambling, three-hour final plea for his freedom. He argued that survivors on the 5:33 p.m. train from Pennsylvania Station on Dec. 7, 1993, had conspired with authorities to convict him.