NEW YORK – A baby-faced college student will serve 9 1/2 years behind bars after pleading guilty Tuesday to charges he attacked a New York City taxi driver from Bangladesh during an anti-Muslim tirade inside a cab.
"I used a knife. I cut him in the throat," Michael Enright said in a low, halting voice when asked by a Manhattan judge to describe his crimes.
Prosecutor James Zaleta argued that Enright deserved an 18-year prison term for a "vicious, cold-blooded attack" that came in 2010 as the Sept. 11 anniversary neared and an emotional debate over a planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero was raging.
"After insulting the tenets of Islam and mocking the restrictions of Ramadan, the defendant, unprovoked, reached through the cab partition and sliced the victim across his neck," Zaleta said.
Judge Richard Carruthers agreed that the charges — attempted murder and assault as hate crimes — were serious. But he said he was imposing a lesser sentence because Enright had no previous criminal record and because the victim wasn't badly hurt.
"This sentence is appropriate and just," the judge said.
Enright, who is a 24 but could pass for a teenager, wore an oversized knit pullover sweater to court. He remained expressionless throughout proceedings that ended with his bail being revoked and court officers taking him away in handcuffs.
Authorities allege Enright asked cab driver Ahmed Sharif whether he was Muslim, uttered an Arabic greeting and told him to "consider this a checkpoint" before slashing him.
Enright initially told police that Sharif tried to rob him and he'd defended himself, prosecutors said. The film student later declared to police that he was "a patriot," according to prosecutors.
A lawyer for Enright had said was beset by alcoholism and by post-traumatic stress disorder from a 2009 trip to Afghanistan, where he was shooting a documentary. He was held for a time in a psychiatric ward, though prosecutors had questioned whether he has serious psychiatric problems.
When arrested, Enright was carrying notebooks describing his Afghanistan experiences — as well as an empty bottle of scotch, authorities said. He told police he had downed a pint of it.
"This was a horrendous crime against an innocent New Yorker," District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement Tuesday. "The victim, a native of Bangladesh and the father of four children, has been working and living in our diverse city for nearly three decades. There is no place for bigotry in New York City."