A woman was charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime Saturday for pushing an Indian immigrant off a subway platform to his death, prosecutors said.
The accused, Erika Menendez, 31, of Rego Park, told detectives she attacked Sunando Sen, 46, because she "thought it would be cool" and because of long-standing prejudice against "Muslims, Hindus and Egyptians," whom she blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, prosecutors said at her arraignment in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens Saturday night.
Judge Gia Morris ordered that Menendez be held without bail and ruled she must undergo a mental health examination before her next appearance Jan. 14.
Menendez laughed, smiled and nodded as prosecutors read from her alleged confession.
"I pushed a Muslim," Assistant District Attorney Michelle Kaszuba said, quoting from statements she said Menendez made to detectives. "There is no reason. I just pushed him in front of the train because I thought it would be cool. I just pushed him because he was Muslim." Asked whether she regretted the crime, Kaszuba said, Menendez told authorities: "Nope, I don't like to regret anything. It is what it is."
Morris chided Menendez for her court conduct, saying it was "not appropriate."
Menendez's attorney, Dietrich Epperson of Kew Gardens, appeared to try to stop his client from making light of the proceedings. "She doesn't think it's funny," he told the judge, adding that her antics were "completely consistent with how she's been acting."
Menendez told police that before pushing Sen, she spent time with her boyfriend in the Bronx, accused him of cheating, took the train to Times Square and smoked marijuana, Kaszuba said.
As police raced to the subway station, Menendez told detectives, she walked to Queensbridge and stayed there until 5 a.m. before again meeting up with her boyfriend on the Lower East Side, according to Kaszuba.
"He told me they saw me on TV," Menendez told police, according to Kaszuba. "We smoked weed and . . . [had sex], then we went to eat at Wendy's."
Kaszuba said her office plans to present evidence to a grand jury in the case on Thursday.
If convicted, Menendez faces 25 years to life in prison.
Sen was killed about 8 p.m. Thursday. His assailant shoved him to the tracks from behind as he was standing on the northbound platform of the 40th Street-Queens Boulevard elevated station on the 7 line in Sunnyside, Queens.
Moments before, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, witnesses saw Menendez talking to herself on a bench at the subway station, and also watched her pacing on the platform and muttering to herself.
After police released a surveillance video and a sketch of the suspect fleeing the station, Menendez was recognized on a street in Brooklyn Saturday morning by a passerby who called 911, police said. Officers brought her to the precinct, where a witness identified her in a lineup and she confessed, prosecutors said.
Menendez has struggled for years with mental health issues, said a law enforcement source and woman who said she was a cousin but declined to be named.
Authorities gave addresses for her in Queens and the Bronx, and she regularly visited close relatives in a Rego Park, Queens, apartment building, according to neighbors.
Friends and co-workers described Sen, of Corona, Queens, as a brilliant graphic designer, computer expert and Manhattan copy shop owner who earned an economics degree from New York University.
"If this woman carried out this crime out of hatred for Muslims or Hindus, it makes it even worse -- because . . . [Sen] was such a kind and peaceful man," said Sen's former roommate, Rizwan Khan. "It is madness to kill someone because he is Hindu or any other religion."
Sen's friend and former boss, Bidyut Sarker, said the arrest offered little solace. "What's done is done," Sarker said. "This is ignorance, to judge or hurt someone by the way they look."
Earlier this month, a Queens man was killed after he was pushed off a platform at the 49th Street station in Manhattan. A homeless man was arrested and charged in that case.
With Candice Ruud,
Anthony M. DeStefano, Robert Brodsky and Nicholas Spangler