By MARC SANTORA
Published: December 29, 2012
A 31-year-old woman was arrested on 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, Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, said.
“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,” Mr. Brown said in an interview.
In a statement, Mr. Brown quoted Ms. 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.” Ms. Menendez conflated the Muslim and Hindu faiths 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.
Mr. Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself,” Mr. 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.”
Mr. 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.
Ms. Menendez is expected to be arraigned by 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.
On Saturday night, Ms. Menendez, wearing a dark blue hooded sweatshirt, was escorted from the 112th Precinct to a waiting car by three detectives. Greeted by camera flashes and dozens of reporters, she let out a loud, unintelligible moan. She did not respond to reporters’ questions.
The attack occurred around 8 p.m. on Thursday at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station in Sunnyside.
Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Ms. 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 on Friday that, according to witnesses’ accounts, there had been no contact on the subway platform between the attacker and the victim before the shove.
The case was the second this month involving someone being pushed to death in a train station. In the first case, Ki-Suck Han, 58, of Elmhurst, Queens, died under the Q train at the 49th Street and Seventh Avenue station on Dec. 3. Naeem Davis, 30, was charged with second-degree murder in that case.
Mr. Sen, after years of saving money, had opened a small copying business on the Upper West Side this year.
Ar Suman, a Muslim, and one of three roommates who shared a small first-floor apartment with Mr. Sen in Elmhurst, said he and Mr. Sen often discussed religion.
Though they were of different faiths, Mr. Suman said, he admired the respect that Mr. Sen showed for those who saw the world differently than he did. Mr. Suman said he once asked Mr. Sen why he was not more active in his faith and it resulted in a long philosophical discussion.
“He was so gentle,” Mr. Suman said. “He said in this world a lot of people are dying, killing over religious things.”