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 innocent 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 possible maximum sentence of life in prison.
The courtroom, packed with victims and their relatives, erupted in cheers as Ferguson was led away in handcuffs.
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 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 emotionally charged courtroom scenes that mixed legal rhetoric with touches of the absurd. 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, who disliked the neighbors in the building where he lived, 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.
“Mr. Ferguson is willing to be patient,” he added.
Ferguson, who wore a bulletproof vest throughout the trial, earlier had charged that he was the target of a murder plot linked to the killing in prison of mass murder Jeffrey Dahmer.
Ferguson claimed the gun was snatched out of his bag while he was dozing on the train. At one point, he charged that Robert Giugliano, one of the survivors who was shot in the chest, really was the gunman.
This and other statements in Ferguson’s summation proved to be too painful for some of the victims, who left the courtroom.
After he insisted on acting as his own lawyer, Nassau County Judge Donald E. Belfi allowed Ferguson some privileges to aid in preparing his defense, including a phone in his jail cell. He used the phone to be interviewed by the media and to arrange television appearances--adding to what one of his lawyers earlier termed “the theater of the absurd.”