NEW YORK, N.Y. - A woman accused of pushing an Indian-born man to his death in front of a New York City subway train told police she did it because she blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and because "I thought it would be cool," prosecutors said at a court hearing.
Erika Menendez, 31, laughed so hard during her arraignment in criminal court Saturday night that Judge Gia Morris told her lawyer, "You're going to have to have your client stop laughing."
Menendez was charged with murder as a hate crime after she told police she spontaneously pushed Sunando Sen.
Defence attorney Dietrich Epperson said Menendez's behaviour in court was no different from how she had been acting when he spoke to her privately, and he said his client didn't really think the proceedings were funny.
Menendez was held without bail and ordered to have a mental health exam. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 14.
Prosecutors said Menendez pushed the 46-year-old Sen to his death Thursday night because she blamed "Muslims, Hindus and Egyptians" for the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
"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 told police, according to the Queens district attorney's office.
Friends and co-workers said Sen, a native of Calcutta, was Hindu. He had lived in New York for decades and was a graphic designer and copy shop owner. Sen was standing on an elevated train platform when he was shoved from behind as the train entered the station.
Witnesses told police a woman had been mumbling to herself and was sitting on a bench behind Sen until the train pulled in, then shoved him and fled.
Police released a sketch and surveillance footage of a woman running from the subway station. Menendez was arrested after a passer-by thought she looked like the wanted suspect. Witnesses identified her in a lineup and she was questioned by police, when she implicated herself, according to police and prosecutors.
According to the district attorney's office, Menendez said, "There is no reason. I just pushed him in front of the train because I thought it would be cool."
Sen was the second man to die after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train this month. Ki-Suck Han was killed in a subway station on Dec. 3. A homeless man was arrested and charged with murder in that case and is awaiting trial. He claimed he acted in self-defence.
Such subway deaths are rare, but transit officials said last week they would consider installing barriers with sliding doors on some subway platforms. Other cities including Paris and London have installed such barriers.
Angel Luis Santiago, who used to work at the building where Menendez's mother and stepfather live, said he was shocked by her arrest.
"It surprised me what she did," he said. "She never acted that way."
Associated Press Writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.