Man accused of train massacre claims race plot

For oddness, that other courtroom drama has nothing on this. The defendant is Colin Ferguson, accused of killing six people during a rampage on a Long Island commuter train in December 1993. He has no "dream team" to represent him in court, just h imself.

Mr Ferguson, 37, originally from Jamaica, has insisted on conducting his own defence, even though he has been diagnosed as clinically paranoid. To the outrage of many, including some of the families of those killed or injured, the judge declared him fit to represent himself and granted him special privileges, including the installation of a telephone in his cell.

Thus the almost surreal scene when opening arguments were heard in Mineola, Long Island, last week. "The evidence will show that Colin Ferguson was in fact a well-meaning passenger on that train," Mr Ferguson began, referring to himself throughout in thethird person.

Mr Ferguson contends that he is the victim of a political set-up inspired by racial prejudice. Responsibility for the massacre on a commuter train to New York has been pinned on him, he claimed, for the sole reason that he is black. n "This is a case of stereotype victimisation of a black man; a subsequent conspiracy to destroy him."

In the face of the 40 or so witnesses that the prosecution is expected to bring forward, Mr Ferguson would seem to be facing an struggle. Notes were also found in his pockets referring to a deep hatred for whites, Asians and "Uncle Tom" blacks.

The prosecution, led by George Peck, is unruffled by Mr Ferguson's tactics. "Ladies and gentlemen," Mr Peck opened. "There is no mystery about this case ... you're going to see enough to know that this man was the shooter."

Mr Ferguson claimed he had dozed off when the gun he was taking to a "safe haven" was stolen from his bag by another man who fired into the crowded compartment. The notes were planted on him by police as part of the effort to frame him. In one of his more curious submissions, he added: "This is not a case made out as Mr Peck has just indicated. There were 93 counts to that indictment; 93 counts only because it matches the year 1993. Had it been 1925, it would have been 25 counts."

Mr Ferguson does have legal advisers, who are publicly appalled by his self-representation.

"Colin Ferguson is extremely intelligent, extraordinarily articulate," said one, Ronald Kuby. "Unfortunately, that intelligence gives his diagnosed insanity a greater scope."