A New York grand jury yesterday indicted Bernhard Hugo Goetz, the so-called "subway vigilante," on four counts of attempted murder for shooting four black teen-agers in a Manhattan subway train last December.
The new grand jury's indictment supersedes the decision of an earlier panel, which concluded in January that Goetz acted in self-defense and indicted him only for possession of an illegal weapon. The case has attracted international attention and roused long-simmering anger over big-city crime.
Yesterday's indictment came as Goetz, once hailed across the country as a heroic victim who "fought back," has been increasingly portrayed as a villain, possibly unstable and even racist. The mild-mannered engineer admitted having "turned into a monster" when he felt threatened by the four teen-agers, one of whom had asked him for $5.
"I knew in my heart I was a murderer," he told police.
Three of the youths shot have recovered from their wounds, but a fourth remains in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down.
"The fact that [the grand jury members] have come up with an attempted-murder indictment indicates that they found absolutely no justification for the shooting," District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said in a news conference.
Questioned by reporters outside his West 14th Street apartment, Goetz said of the indictment, "It's probably the best thing. Hopefully this will end the controversy . . . . The story would have come out one way or the other anyway."
His attorney, Barry Slotnick, said he would move immediately to dismiss the indictment "because it was brought improvidentially by the district attorney for partisan reasons." Goetz, he added, has become "a political football."
Morgenthau, a powerful figure in New York's criminal justice system, came under heavy criticism for failing to obtain a stronger indictment from the first grand jury. He denied today that the resubmission was unusual or politically motivated.
"Our job here is to do what we thought was right . . . and that's what we did," Morgenthau said.
The bizarre case has been chronicled almost daily, often in banner headlines, by the city's tabloids. Goetz seemed transformed by the attention, abandoning his initial shyness in the last few weeks to take tabloid reporters on a subway tour, offer his first-person account to the New York Post and chat on camera with ABC's Barbara Walters over a Chinese takeout dinner.
Although Goetz did not testify before the first grand jury, he showed up Tuesday to testify before the second panel.
However, Morgenthau refused to limit the scope of the prosecutors' questions to the Dec. 22 incident and to a later incident in which Goetz gave two pistols to a neighbor for safekeeping. So Goetz left the courthouse without testifying.
In a videotaped confession shown to both grand juries, Goetz told police that, when he drew his gun, he had not intended to kill the youths.
But he changed his mind, he said, because he feared that he would be beaten.
"I saw, okay, that [from] the smile on his face and the shine in his eyes, that he was enjoying this. I knew what they were going to do . . . . They were going to have fun with me . . . . It was at that point, I decided I was gonna kill 'em all, murder 'em all, do anything," Goetz said.
Morgenthau refused to say what new evidence, as required by law, allowed him to resubmit the case. He has conceded previously that at least part of it consisted of the testimony of two of Goetz's victims, Troy Canty and James Ramseur.
The youths had refused to testify before the first panel without immunity from prosecution. Morgenthau said they were not given immunity then because charges were pending against them on other criminal matters and because "we didn't think we needed them" to obtain an attempted-murder indictment. Morgenthau granted them immunity to testify before the second grand jury, citing "information that we acquired later as to what happened in the subway car." He would not be more specific.
While recent polls showed that a majority of New Yorkers still sympathized with Goetz, public opinion began to turn against him, particularly among blacks, when parts of his confession became public revealing that he had shot at one of the victims a second time after leaning over him and saying, "You seem to be doing all right. Here's another."
The attempted-murder counts against Goetz carry a maximum sentence of 25 years each in prison. The new grand jury also charged him with first-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, punishable by up to 15 years each, and first-degree reckless endangerment, which carries a seven-year penalty.