Alleged subway pusher Erika Menendez will be charged with murder as a hate crime for killing Sunando Sen.
The 31-year-old woman is accused of pushing Sen into the path of an oncoming train last Thursday. Menendez apparently did not know Sen, and the alleged crime was seemingly motivated by Sen's race, reports the The New York Times.
Following her arrest, Menendez allegedly told police that she pushed the 46-year-old Indian immigrant to his death because she hated Muslims and Hindus.
In many jurisdictions like New York, a hate crime is used as an amplifier for a criminal charge. So if someone would face a felony charge for an assault, battery, or murder, that charge would be upgraded to the next highest level if the crime was motivated by someone's race, national origin, religion, or other protected characteristic, according to the law.
However, people who know Menendez say she is not a racist, reports the Times. Instead, they point to her troubled history with mental illness.
For years, Menendez had been in and out of New York's mental health and law-enforcement establishments, writes the Times. She's been treated by psychiatric staffs at two city hospitals, caseworkers have visited her family home, and she's been arrested multiple times.
Yet despite all her mental issues, the troubled woman was allowed to walk the streets, and allegedly killed a man who was minding his own business.
After another subway rider was pushed to her death in 1999, New York legislators passed a law that allows judges to order closely supervised treatment for mentally ill patients who had a history of refusing to take medication and who had been put in jail or hospitalized repeatedly or had become violent, writes the Times. But even under this law, the individual would have to be released after she no longer appeared to be a public threat.
So unless Menendez remained violent and uncooperative throughout the duration of her illness, authorities probably had no right to involuntary commit the woman, experts told the Times. The problem is that individuals suffering from mental illness can experience their ups and downs, and there was no one to help Menendez when she suffered from this down period.
- Erika Menendez, suspect in NYC subway shoving death of Sunando Sen, to undergo psychiatric exam (CBS News)
- Man Charged for Subway Pushing; What About the Photographer? (FindLaw's New York Criminal Law Blog)
- Man Charged With DC Metro Bomb Plot (FindLaw's Blotter)