Philly subway hammer attacker gets 4 to 10 years

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2009 5:31 PM

A man with schizophrenia who attacked a sleeping subway rider with a hammer was sentenced Friday to four to 10 years in prison for the attack, which a prosecutor dubbed "everybody's worse nightmare."

Thomas Scantling, 27, of Philadelphia, had failed to take his anti-psychotic medications but used PCP and other illegal drugs. The judge found that a toxic combination fueled the violence.

The September 2008 attack was captured by a security camera on a tape that shows Scantling pull a hammer from a backpack and repeatedly strike 20-year-old DeWayne Taylor before pulling him from the train onto a subway platform in Philadelphia.

Moments before, Scantling had gently guided his 6-year-old son to an open seat.

"You're going to be watched for a long time to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Rosemarie DeFino-Nastasi, who also ordered 15 years' probation. "This was about you wanting to take drugs, along with the mental illness."

Scantling heard voices and thought the victim was out to get him, public defender Gregg Blender said. Scantling, who has a prior drug conviction, told the judge he occasionally took PCP to "soothe" him. He said he had last taken it a week or two before the assault.

Taylor, a University of Pennsylvania laboratory technician, was taking the train home from work late at night. He managed to walk to a hospital to have scalp lacerations stitched and bruises treated. The emotional toll, his mother said, has been far worse.

"I don't recognize him today," Tracie Taylor testified. "He comes to no court hearings. He simply cannot deal with what happened to him."

She had to buy her son a car to get to work because he now fears the subway, she said, asking that both Scantling and her son get the help they need.

Scantling had been hospitalized at times for his mental illness, and his parents described vain efforts to try to keep him committed and on medication. Blender called the family's mental-health history "devastating." Scantling's parents and several siblings suffer from mental-health problems, and an uncle and brother committed suicide, he said.

Scantling apologized to the Taylor family again Friday, as he did on the day of his plea.

"That night I wasn't under the influence, but I wasn't in my right frame of mind," he said.

Scantling pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and a weapons charge. Assistant District Attorney Charles Ehrlich asked for a sentence of six to 20 years, calling him "too dangerous to be in society."