A homeless man charged after a Queens, N.Y., resident was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train and killed as onlookers watched is blaming the man who died for the incident linked to a haunting newspaper photo that gained international attention.
Naeem Davis, 30, was arraigned Wednesday night on a second-degree murder charge and ordered held without bail in the death of Ki-Suck Han, 58, on Monday. Davis is due back in court on Dec. 11.
As the handcuffed defendant walked past reporters, he said Han acted first.
"He attacked me first. He grabbed me," Davis said.
Asked by a television news reporter if he meant to kill Han, Davis replied "no."
Prosecutor James Lin told the judge that Davis saw the train strike Han before leaving the Times Square station.
"The defendant never once offered any aid to the victim as the train approached the platform and in fact, this defendant watched the train hit the victim," Lin said.
But Davis's Legal Aid lawyer, Stephen Pokart, said outside court that his client reportedly "was involved in an incident with a man who was drunk and angry."
A witness, Leigh Weingus, told the New York Times that Han appeared to be aggressive toward Davis.
"The victim kept saying, 'Hey! Hey!' at the suspect, getting closer and closer to him," she said. "At first Davis appeared calm, saying, 'I don't know you, you don't know me, get out of my face.'"
Han's wife had said she had argued with her husband that morning and that he had been drinking.
Relatives and friends bid a final farewell to Han at a funeral chapel Thursday in Flushing, Queens. His widow and daughter knelt before the open coffin for several minutes before taking their seats in the front row for the Korean-spoken service.
Davis has several other arrests in New York and Pennsylvania on mostly minor charges including drug possession.
Newspaper published controversial photo
Han's death got widespread attention not only for its horrific nature, but because he was photographed a split-second before the train trapped him and seemingly no one attempted to come to his aid.
Han's only child, 20-year-old Ashley, said at a news conference Wednesday that her father was always willing to help someone. But when asked about why no one helped him up, she said: "What's done is done."
CBC News journalistic calls involve finding a balance
CBC News, which is guided by its own Journalistic Standards and Practices, is not using photos of the New York subway-violence victim on the tracks — with the subway train closing in on him — in its ongoing coverage. That's because the balance in this case was between informing the public about what took place and consideration for the man who died.
The key element is straightforward: a man has been pushed onto subway tracks and killed by an oncoming train. So there was nothing to add to viewers' or readers' knowledge of the matter by running the picture, because there was no issue about whether the incident happened or not. On the other hand, there was a question of respect and consideration for the man who died, Mr. Ki-Suck Han, and for those close to him.
Our call is that while photos of the initial contact between Han and his assailant can be used, we won't be republishing the chilling image of Han on the tracks.
— David Studer, CBC News, interim executive editor
"The thought of someone helping him up in a matter of seconds would have been great," she said.
A freelance photographer for the New York Post was waiting for a train Monday afternoon when he said he saw a man approach Han at the station, get into an altercation with him and push him into the train's path.
The photo in Tuesday's Post showed Han with his head turned toward the train, his arms reaching up but unable to climb off the tracks in time.
The photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, told NBC's Today show Wednesday that he was trying to alert the motorman to what was going on by flashing his camera.
He said he was shocked that people nearer to the victim didn't try to help in the 22 seconds before the train struck.
"It took me a second to figure out what was happening ... I saw the lights in the distance. My mind was to alert the train," Abbasi said.
"The people who were standing close to him ... they could have moved and grabbed him and pulled him up. No one made an effort," he added.
In a written account Abbasi gave the Post, he said people in the crowd took videos and snapped photos on their cellphones after Han was pulled, limp, onto the platform. He said he shoved them back as a doctor and another man tried to resuscitate the victim, but Han died in front of them.
Ashley Han and her mother, Serim Han, met reporters Wednesday inside their Presbyterian church in Queens. The family came to the U.S. from Korea about 25 years ago. They said Han was unemployed and had been looking for work. Their pastor said the family was so upset by the front-page photo of Han in the Post that they had to stay with him for comfort.
"I just wish I had one last chance to tell my dad how much I love him," Ashley Han said.
Subway pushes not common
Subway pushes are feared but fairly unusual. Among the more high-profile cases was the January 1999 death of Kendra Webdale, who was shoved to her death by a former mental patient.
Commuters said they were shocked by Han's death but that it's always a silent fear for many of the more than 5.2 million commuters who ride the subway on an average weekday.
"Stuff like that you don't really think about every day. You know it could happen. So when it does happen it's scary but then what it all comes down to is you have to protect yourself," said Aliyah Syphrett, 23, who sat on a bench as she waited at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
If she saw someone fall or be pushed, "I would try to help them, and also inform them that at the end of the platform there are steps.... If you can run to the other end you can come right back up the steps. But I guess at that moment you're panicked."
Diana Henry, 79, a Long Island resident, was waiting for a train at 34th Street. She stood as far from the platform as possible — about a dozen feet back, leaning against the wall.
"I'm always careful, but I'm even more careful after what happened," she said. "I stand back because there are so many crazies in this city that you never know."