30 dec 2012
Woman accused of hate-crime murder in subway push
New York: A 31-year-old woman was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime in connection with the death of a man who was pushed onto the tracks of an elevated subway station in Queens and crushed by an oncoming train.
The woman, Erika Menendez, selected her victim because she believed him to be a Muslim or a Hindu, said Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney.
“The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter’s nightmare: being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train,” Brown said in an interview.
In a statement released by the district attorney’s office, Brown quoted Menendez, “in sum and substance,” as having told the police: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.” Menendez conflated the Muslim and Hindu faiths both in her comments to the police and in her target for attack, officials said.
The victim, Sunando Sen, was born in India and, according to a roommate, was raised Hindu.
Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself,” Brown said. “Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant’s actions should never be tolerated by a civilized society.”
Brown said he had no information on the defendant’s criminal or mental history.
“It will be up to the court to determine if she is fit to stand trial,” he said.
Menendez is expected to be arraigned Sunday morning. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. By charging her with murder as a hate crime, the possible minimum sentence she faced would be extended to 20 years from 15 years, according to prosecutors.
The attack occurred around 8 p.m. Thursday at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station.
Sen, 46, was looking out over the tracks when a woman approached him from behind and shoved him onto the tracks, according to the police. Sen never saw her, the police said.
The woman fled the station, running down two flights of stairs and down the street.
By the next morning, a brief and grainy black-and-white video of the woman who the police said was behind the attack was being broadcast on news programs.
Patrol officers picked up Menendez early Saturday after someone who had seen the video on television spotted her on a Brooklyn street and called 911, said Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department. She was taken to Queens and later placed in lineups, according to detectives.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Friday that, according to witnesses’ accounts, there had been no contact on the subway platform between the attacker and the victim before the shove.
Sen, after years of saving money, had opened a small copying business this year on the Upper West Side.
Ar Suman, a Muslim, and one of three roommates who shared a small first-floor apartment with Sen in Elmhurst, said that he and Sen often discussed religion.
Though they were of different faiths, Suman said, he admired the respect that Sen showed for those who saw the world differently than he did. Suman said he once asked Sen why he was not more active in his faith and it resulted in a long philosophical discussion.
“He was so gentle,” Suman said. “He said in this world a lot of people are dying, killing over religious things.”