Man admits to subway hammer attack, waives hearing right

The mentally unstable man accused of attacking a dozing subway rider with a hammer on the Broad Street Line last year waived his right to a preliminary hearing yesterday, and, in a rare moment, admitted committing the assault and apologized for it.

"I was off my medication, but now I see clearly and I want to take responsibility for my actions," Thomas Scantling, 27, of Cheltenham Avenue near Saul Street, Oxford Circle, told Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield.

Defendants typically reserve such comments for their sentencing hearings. The unusual moment of candor was made after Scantling, a hefty, bearded man, had first been escorted out of the courtroom, and was then brought back.

Public defender Gregg Blender told the judge that Scantling wanted to make a statement.

After apologizing, Scantling was taken out of the courtroom again. He was held for trial on all charges and faces arraignment Aug. 19 on attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime and related offenses.

At about 12:15 a.m. Sept. 4, Scantling - as seen in a SEPTA surveillance tape that has been viewed nationally - grabbed a hammer from his backpack after he had nudged his 6-year-old son to a seat on the moving subway train. He then began attacking a rider, dragging the man out of his seat and hitting him even after the train stopped and the doors opened.

Scantling is then seen pushing the rider - who was on the ground and shielding his face with his hands - out of the train and onto the platform, where he kept holding onto him and pushing him.

The victim, Dewayne Taylor, now 21, has recovered from his injuries and has returned to work, Charles Ehrlich, chief of the district attorney's Municipal Court unit, said after yesterday's brief proceeding.

Taylor was hit on the head, shoulder and back, and one of his fingers was broken, Ehrlich said. The injuries were not serious, he said.

Of Scantling, Ehrlich said it is likely he will eventually plead guilty. "The tale is in the tape," he said, referring to the SEPTA videotape.

Ehrlich said it is clear Scantling has mental-health problems. "There's no dispute on that, like there's no dispute that the assault occurred," he said. "The question is the extent. The question is what is needed to protect the public - regardless of what his mental-health problems are."

Family members said that a few weeks before the attack they had committed Scantling to Fairmount Behavioral Health System, but he was released just four days later.

Scantling was found mentally incompetent from the time of the attack to March 13, Blender said in court. He has since been found competent, but still in need of treatment, and has remained at Norristown State Hospital.

Blender told the judge that Scantling expects to remain at Norristown through his trial.