Erika Menendez was arrested on Saturday and charged with second-degree murder after police say she pushed a man in front of an oncoming subway train in Queens, N.Y. The homeless woman, 31, is also being charged with a hate crime after she told police she targeted the man specifically because of her assumptions about his religion.
If Menendez is convicted she could face life in prison, if she is convicted of a hate crime the minimum sentence is between 15 and 20 years. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement that the Sunando Sen, a 46-year-old Hindu man, was crushed to death around 8 p.m EST on Thursday night at the 40th Street-Lowry Station in Sunnyside, Queens.
Brown quoted Menendez as telling 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.” The D.A. added that Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself.”
“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. “It will be up to the court to determine if she is fit to stand trial.”
Video of a homeless woman running from the train station surfaced Friday morning before someone in Brooklyn recognized Mendendez on the street and called the police. Menendez was wearing the same jacket as the woman in the video at the time of her arrest, according to the New York Post.
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Initial reports speculated that the suspect was suffering from mental illness, seemingly corroborated by witness accounts that she was “incoherent” when questioned and at one point asked where the nearest R train was.
"All I know is that she's bipolar and as far as seeing the footage, I'm pretty sure it was her," a family member of the victim told the Post. "I don't know much about her whereabouts or what she's been up to these past few months."
Before his death Sen had spent years saving money and was finally able to open a small copying business on the Upper West Side earlier this year. The New York Times reported that his rapport with his roommates included frequent healthy conversations about differences in their religions, at one point complaining too many people were killed over their beliefs.
Earlier this month Ki Suk Han, 58, was killed after a homeless man pushed him into the path of an oncoming Q train. A photo snapped moments before the train struck him, an impact reportedly loud enough to be heard blocks away, inspired a national debate after it was published on the cover of the New York Post above the headline “Doomed!”