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From the archives: Insanity plea for suspect? Judge orders a psychiatric exam

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 11, 1993.

Protected by 17 armed court officers and wearing a bulletproof vest, Colin Ferguson made an appearance in a Nassau County courtroom yesterday, where his lawyer suggested he might use an insanity defense when his client comes to trial in the murders of five Long Island Rail Road commuters.

After Ferguson made his brief appearance before District Court Judge Ira Warshawsky, authorities said that when they present the case against the 35-year-old Jamaican immigrant to a grand jury, they will seek civil-rights charges in addition to murder.

Wearing a white bulletproof vest over his orange jail uniform, Ferguson shuffled into court shackled hand and leg, with a court officer holding on to an additional chain clipped around his waist like a leash. He listened impassively as his attorney, Anthony Falanga of Mineola, asked Warshawsky to order a psychiatric examination for his client; the request was granted.

Assistant District Attorney George Peck agreed to turn over to the defense information about admissions that Falanga said Ferguson made to police after his arrest Tuesday night, shortly after three LIRR commuters wrestled him to the floor of car three when police say he paused to reload a semiautomatic pistol.

Peck declined to provide details of the admissions, but law enforcement sources said Ferguson rebuffed efforts by homicide detectives to get him to sign a written statement. Falanga described the statements as "oral admissions" that were "tantamount to a confession." Authorities also seized notes from Ferguson that revealed that he hated whites, Asians and conservative blacks. Based on the notes, they said the murders were motivated by racial hatred.

Court officials described the tight security - and, especially, the use of a bulletproof vest for Ferguson - as highly unusual.
Outside the courtroom after his appearance with Ferguson, Falanga declined to say whether he believed his client was insane at the time of the shooting. "I am not a doctor," he said.

But, he added, "Everything that we know to date indicates that it's obvious that a psychiatric evaluation is required."

Under state law, if defendants can persuade a jury that they did not understand their actions were wrong, they can be found not guilty and sent to a mental institution. Each murder charge against Ferguson carries a maximum prison term of 25 years to life.

Falanga called the shootings "horrendous. A tragedy." And he said, "Our community has been violated. I'm part of the community. I feel for everybody."

It remained unclear yesterday how soon the case would be presented to a grand jury. Although Ferguson was initially charged with only four murders, Peck said he would now present evidence about Mi Kyung Kim, 27, of New Hyde Park, who died the day after the attack.

"I hope I do not have to present a sixth," Peck said.

Nassau homicide Det. William Cocks said the grand-jury presentation is being delayed to allow as many eyewitnesses as possible - many of whom are still hospitalized - to recover sufficiently to testify.

"There's a lot of work left to be done as far as the investigation is concerned," Cocks said.

For the families of those who perished in the attack, yesterday began the process of burying their dead. Passenger Richard Nettleton, 24, of Roslyn Heights, was buried after a private funeral.

Marita Theresa Magtoto, 30, of Westbury, rested in a steel casket at the Brentwood Funeral Chapels as friends and family read from Bible passages, championing peace, not anger.

"My reaction is anger and hate to the person who did it, but this is not what Jesus wants," said her pastor, Monsignor Francis Gaeta of St. Brigid's Church in Westbury. "Our tendency is to respond to violence with violence or to turn into ourselves and not out to others . . . But our call as Christians is to respond to violence, hate and injury with love . . . If the sisters and brothers of Jesus do not, there is no hope in this world."

More than 150 attended Magtoto's mass last night, saying their goodbyes before her body is flown to her native Philippines today for burial.

Magtoto's sister stood up to say a few words, and she fought back tears the whole time. In a soft voice, she said her sister would be pleased that so many people came and believed her sister would go to heaven. "It's only the beginning of her trip," she said, and as the tears spilled over, she sat down.

Wakes also began last night for two of the other dead: Kim and James Gorycki, 51, of Mineola. A wake begins today for Dennis McCarthy, 52, of Mineola.

In other developments yesterday:

Bishop John McGann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre said he would lead a memorial mass for the victims and their families. The mass is to be held at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre tomorrow at 11:45 a.m. It's the same day that the Rev. Jesse Jackson will speak on the massacre at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City.

Two of the 17 people wounded in the shooting - Jill Michel, 40, a Garden City resident shot in the head, and Frank Barker, 34, a Garden City resident shot in the neck - were discharged yesterday from Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola.

The New York Islanders hockey team said it expects to contribute at least $ 12,000 to a fund that has been set up for victims of Tuesday's shootings. The Islanders will contribute $ 1 for every ticket sold to next Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, officials said. The Islanders, the Long Island Rail Road and the Long Island Association have joined forces to create a fund to benefit victims. The address for donations is: LIRR Victims Assistance Fund, c/o Long Island Association, 80 Hauppauge Rd., Commack, N.Y. 11725-4495.

One of the wounded passengers released yesterday, Elizabeth Aviles, 30, of Hicksville, said she was misquoted when a written statement released to the media gave the impression she felt pity for the gunman.

"This man does not deserve to live," Aviles said yesterday in an interview at her home. "He took away from everybody that day, not just the people on the train. He took away from everybody that rides the Long Island Rail Road.

"He's a bad, bad man," she said. She was shot once, with the bullet piercing her right shoulder blade and exiting her left.
Police discounted news reports that Ferguson had once stalked his ex-wife, Audrey Warren of Uniondale, who divorced him in 1988.

"We did a thorough interview with her on his background, and she never mentioned being stalked by him or obtaining an order of protection," Cocks said. "She made no allegations against him . . . She said she hadn't seen him in four years. All she said about the divorce was that they didn't get along, and they mutually ended the marriage."

A co-worker of Warren's at Unisys in Lake Success, who asked that her name be withheld, said, "She's devastated over what happened."

CORRECTION, Dec. 14, 1993: Newsday reported incorrectly on Saturday that the lawyer for Colin Ferguson, charged in the Long Island Rail Road shootings, asked Nassau District Court Judge Ira Warshawsky to order a psychiatric examination of his client and that the judge agreed. Although attorney Anthony Falanga said he will seek such an exam, he has not yet done so.

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