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From the archives: Ferguson requests new lawyer

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 18, 1993.

In his first public statement since allegedly shooting to death six people during a bloody rampage through a Long Island Rail Road car, Colin Ferguson yesterday rejected his court-appointed attorney and asked to be represented by a Brooklyn lawyer who has described Ferguson's past behavior as "delusional."

Also during the appearance, Ferguson complained through his current attorney, Anthony Falanga, of his treatment in jail, alleging that he was hit with a milk crate and a fire extinguisher by corrections officers. A jail spokesman said the complaint will be investigated.

But most of the court appearance was focused on the attempt to change attorneys. After asking Nassau District Court Judge Ira B. Warshawsky if he could make a statement on the record, Ferguson, 35, said, "I'm asking that the court release Mr. Falanga of representation of me and my case, and that Mr. Colin Moore be designated my attorney in this case." Asked if he planned on retaining Moore, who was present in court, Ferguson said, "He's agreed to take my case free of cost . . . He paid me a visit recently [in jail] . . . and agreed to do it pro bono."

But Warshawsky denied the request for the time being, noting that Ferguson's court-appointed attorney had already requested a psychiatric examination of his client. Warshawsky ordered the results of that exam to be announced in court Jan. 4.

Ferguson was charged with murder in the Dec. 7 massacre that left six people dead and 19 wounded. Ferguson also is charged with criminal possession of a weapon and authorities have indicated they will seek additional charges when the matter is presented to a grand jury.

Handwritten notes found on Ferguson after his arrest indicated that hate for whites, Asians, "Uncle Tom" blacks and many others spurred him to empty a 9mm semiautomatic pistol into unsuspecting commuters as they rode the 5:33 p.m. train from Penn Station into Garden City on Dec. 7. Moore, a Brooklyn attorney known for his civil rights work and who had been approached by Ferguson in an unrelated case two years ago, told the judge he visited Ferguson in jail after leaders in the black and Caribbean communities asked him to become involved, but he declined to name individuals or organizations.

"I suppose people are just concerned . . . they would like to see that he has proper representation, that he has confidence in his attorney, that he gets the best possible representation under the circumstances," Moore said outside of court.

Falanga said that Ferguson has the right to pick his own lawyer, "assuming he's competent to do so." Moore - who represented one of the defendants in the Central Park jogger rape case and the family of Gavin Cato, the black child whose death in a 1991 automobile accident triggered four nights of racial violence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn - said initially that he did not believe the shooting was racially motivated, but added that he could not say for certain since he had not seen the evidence.

"I'd like to find out how the D.A. got those notes in the first instance," he said, saying if he becomes Ferguson's defense attorney, he would challenge their admission.

Moore would not detail what type of defense he was considering, but said the case interested him in part because "it deals with the whole issue of what his mental state was at the particular time," adding, "there are a lot of people in this society, not only African Americans, but other people, who are operating under conditions of severe stress and that individuals sometimes crack under that kind of pressure."

In an article written for New York Newsday Dec. 9, Moore said he first met Ferguson in August, 1991, when Ferguson had been thrown out of Adelphi University and believed it was because of racism. Though Ferguson was organized and articulate at that meeting, Moore wrote, he seemed agitated and "delusional" when he contacted Moore again several months ago. Moore also wrote that Ferguson offered collateral security on a 1985 Buick he owned in lieu of payment for legal services. In the notes authorities found on Ferguson after the shooting, Ferguson referred to "those corrupt black attorneys who not only refused to help me but tried to steal my car."

Yesterday, Moore downplayed his earlier comments. "Well, I'd like to think I'm not a corrupt black lawyer," Moore said. Asked if Ferguson was referring to Moore in his notes, Moore said, "No, I didn't take a car from him, no."

After the request to swap attorneys was denied, Falanga described the alleged abuse Ferguson said he was suffering in jail, including an attack by corrections officers "by way of a milkbox and a fire extinguisher," which he said occurred recently.

Ferguson - who is in protective custody and is considered a security risk at the jail because of the nature of the alleged crime - also complained through his attorney that lights left on 24 hours a day "diminished his ability to sleep."

Jail spokesman Lt. Robert Anderson said Ferguson's comments yesterday had spurred an investigation. "We have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect him," Anderson said, citing the bulletproof vest Ferguson conspicuously wears during his court appearances. "Since he's come in, from day one he has been monitored very, very closely by supervisors. I have sincere doubts as to the complaints."

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