Psych exam ordered for NYC subway death suspect
Erika Menendez, center, is led away by police Dec. 29, 2012, in New York. / Network News Service
Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET
NEW YORK A woman accused of pushing a man to his death in front of a subway train told police she did so because she blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11 attacks, and because "I thought it would be cool," prosecutors said at a court hearing.
Erika Menendez was charged Saturday night with murder as a hate crime after she told police she spontaneously pushed Sunando Sen, a 46-year-old native of India. Menendez was held without bail and ordered to have a mental health exam. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 14.
The New York Times reported Monday that Menendez's arrest isn't her first encounter with law enforcement.
Unnamed police sources told the Times that Menendez attacked a retired firefighter in 2003 while he was taking out his garbage. That incident happened two months after she allegedly hit and scratched another man. Also in 2003, Menendez was arrested on a charge of cocaine possession.
The Associated Press reported that Menendez pleaded guilty to assaulting a man in 2003, and drug possession.
Police responded to five calls from Menendez's relatives with problems involving her between February and 2005, the Times reported. During one of those calls in 2010, Menendez threw a radio at a police officer, the Times reported.
Police told the AP that Menendez's family members called authorities several times in the past five years because she had not been properly taking prescribed medications. Police did not say what the medication was.
Citing "friends and people familiar with her record," the Times reported that Menendez has received treatment from at least two New York City mental health facilities. The Times could not determine what specifically Menendez has been treated for.
During her arraignment in Queens criminal court Saturday, Menendez laughed so hard that Judge Gia Morris told her lawyer: "You're going to have to have your client stop laughing."
Defense attorney Dietrich Epperson said Menendez's behavior in court was no different from how she had been acting when he spoke to her privately, and said his client didn't really think the proceedings were funny. He represented her for the arraignment only and had no further comment.
Prosecutors said Menendez pushed Sen to his death Thursday night because she blamed "Muslims, Hindus and Egyptians" for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"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 Queens for decades and was a graphic designer and copy shop owner. Sen was standing on an elevated platform of the 7 train that travels between Manhattan and Queens 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 from behind. She then fled.
Police released a sketch and surveillance footage of a woman running from the subway station. Menendez was arrested after a passer-by saw her on the street and 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.
Angel Luis Santiago, who used to work at the Queens 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."
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 midtown Manhattan 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-defense.
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.
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