Originally published in Newsday on March 23, 1995
Victims applauded and sobbed with relief as the convicted Long Island Rail Road gunmanwas ordered to spend 315 2/3 years to life behind bars for shooting to death six passengers and wounding 19 others in a crime that horrified the nation.
Telling Ferguson it was too bad that New York's newly reinstated death penalty could not be applied to him, Nassau County Court Judge Donald E. Belfi sentenced the 37-year-old native of Jamaica to the maximum possible.
"In my 21 years as a judge, I have never presided over a trial with a more selfish and self-centered defendant than you. The vicious crimes you committed on December 7, 1993 were the acts of a coward," Belfi said, urging legislators to change the state law that effectively caps Ferguson's sentence at 200 years to life.
Ferguson, convicted Feb. 17, reacted not at all.
As he did throughout the month-long trial - during which 15 eyewitnesses identified him as the shooter - Ferguson maintained his innocence yesterday. He continued to act as his own lawyer, tried to delay the proceeding and complained about racism, the media and his treatment at the jail. And as he left, he told the judge where he could find Ferguson's appeal papers.
He showed not a drop of remorse, which didn't surprise Arlene Locicero, the mother of slain passenger Amy Federici of Mineola.
"You are doomed. You are unable to break free of your sins . . . You call evil good and you call good evil. You turn darkness into light and light into darkness," Locicero said. "You think you are wise. You think you are clever."
Survivor Lisa Combatti of Garden City, who was nearly eight months pregnant when she was shot, told the court, "I often reflect on how lucky I was to have survived, then my emotions turn to anger because this was not an accident but a deliberate act of violence."
Marlene Francois of Westbury broke down in tears, before composing herself and telling Ferguson, "On December 7, you almost killed me. On March 23, 1995, you continue to cause me pain because you refuse to accept responsibility." Ferguson bowed his head and wouldn't look at her.
But in an hour-long rebuttal of statements victims made yesterday and Tuesday, he took issue with everyone except Carolyn McCarthy, of whom he said, "she is a favorite of mine."
Ferguson appeared to praise McCarthy's lack of bitterness despite the fact that her husband, Dennis, was killed and only son Kevin severely wounded. But the McCarthys and the other victims and relatives had already walked out of the courtroom in disgust over his statement.
"We didn't have to sit there and listen to it . . . we don't need this anymore," she said later. "Thank God it's over."
Ferguson failed to see why uninjured passengers who did not testify at trial were allowed to give statements. He objected to the racial overtones of being called an animal by some survivors. He was offended that many victims didn't agree with his constitutional right to represent himself.
After being declared competent to stand trial, Ferguson fired defense attorneys William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby for mounting an insanity defense without his consent. Ferguson then proceeded to represent himself in one of the strangest trials in Long Island history, cross-examining the very people he shot and infuriating many who believed he was crazy.
Yesterday, Belfi said he had no regrets about his ruling, which was based on his own questioning of Ferguson and on psychiatric testimony during a competency hearing. "I did everything with a view toward not having the case reversed," Belfi said after the sentencing.
"You don't kill six people and wound 19 others unless there is some mental or personality disorder but it did not rise to the level in my opinion to find him incompetent."
"I do not need to say in fact that I am remorseful to the point where I am confessing guilt. That is not the case," Ferguson said.
"As much as I am hated in Nassau County and in America, I believe there are persons that are strengthened by me and my stand through this difficult process," he said
He drew a few incredulous stares from front-row court buffs when he added, "To say that I am an evil person has to be addressed to the extent that I am not an evil person and . . . based on my performance in this courtroom . . . I'm suggesting I'm one of the safest persons to live around."
Finally, Belfi gave Ferguson a last opportunity to speak before he handed down the sentence.
"I hope that somewhere down the road I will be forgotten," Ferguson said. " . . . That I just be back to the life that I lived before I came to jail. And that is a quiet life, unknown to the world. I will be satisfied with that. I will do my time on earth and then I will go."
Victims like Mi Won Kim, sister of slain passenger Mi Kyung Kim of New Hyde Park, were nonplussed, choosing instead to focus on the positive. "Under the worst of circumstances, I have met the best of people. With a support group like this, you can't go wrong."
A beaming prosecutor looked incredilbly relieved. "I'm very, very happy it's over," said Assistant District Attorney George Peck. "He's a coward. He's nothing without his gun."
Excerpts from the Hearing
Colin Ferguson, pre-sentencing statement
I hope that somewhere down the road I will be forgotten and at this point I feel I should make a special request to the media that as of this point no further coverage of me be made. And that I be just back to the life that I lived before I came to jail. And that is a quiet life, unknown to the world. I will be satisfied with that. I will do my time on earth and then I will go. It is a difficult place but I will continue.And when I leave here I know I first have to go back to the Nassau County jail and I will meet hostility. But I have prayed and I will continue to. And thus far, God has been good to me. And I'm hopeful he will continue. I have nothing else to say.
Arlene Locicero, mother of murder victim Amy Federici
Clearly, Amy was not made for the present, earthly life. Neither are you, Colin Ferguson, made for an eternity on earth. Your eternal destiny lies before you. Where will you live forever?
Lisa Combatti, victim
I consider myself extremely lucky for having survived along with my unborn child. I remember hearing you Colin Ferguson shooting your way up the aisle. I thought that my life was over. And that I would never have the child I wanted so much. Time has passed and we are trying to go on with our lives. I cherish the quiet times I have with my daughter, and while I rock her asleep, I think about how innocent she is and the ways in which I can protect her. And the world we live in today.
Marlene Francois, victim
For several months after you shot me, I had to depend on others. I could not go to work. My mother, you made her ill, she fell sick, she was unable to work. But yet she has to be strong for me. My family, like the families of the other victims, we worked so hard to provide a decent living for our families. And yet you chose to come into our lives, to take that away from us. We did not need your input, Mr. Ferguson, to make us see how hard our lives were already.