A man is back on the streets, and free to ride the subway, after he was convicted of masturbating on three young women during their morning commutes.
Darnell Hardware, 27, took advantage of the packed rush-hour crowds on New York City subway cars to rub himself against women who were unable to move due to the crowded train, said prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney's office.
He would ejaculate onto the women before fleeing the train car through closing doors. His victims were 24, 22 and 17 years old.
Hardware was convicted of his crimes, but a Court of Appeals judges ruled last week that he will get three years of probation, plus one year of jail time already served. That's because Hardware's crimes were ruled misdemeanors, and not felonies.
A felony charge could bring up to seven years in prison.
Despite the DA's pushes over the past decade to be able to charge so-called "subway grinders" as felons, the courts refused to allow it in Hardware's case, because they say he did not use actual physical force against his victims.
The court's decision is based on a ruling from a 2002 case where a court threw out felony charges against 300-pound Jason Mack, who was guilty of masturbating on a 14-year-old girl while she was riding the subway to school.
At that time, the court's decision was based on a claim that the incident did not involve the threat of physical violence. Last year, state Sen. Bill Perkins introduced a bill to allow felony charges to be brought against offenders with two prior convictions. The bill passed in the Senate but was killed by the Assembly.
Darnell Hardware’s victims were average New Yorkers on their way to work and school.
The first incident occurred at 8:15 a.m. on June 25, 2002, when Darnell Hardware attacked a woman on the uptown 4/5 between 14th and 42nd streets. She was 24 years old and on her way to work.
On June 1, 2005 at 6 p.m., Hardware attacked a 22-year-old EMT on her way home from work. She was on the uptown 1 train north of 96th Street.
His third victim was a 17-year-old girl on her way to school. She was on the uptown 4/5 train on December 9, 2005 at 7:30 a.m.