James Ramseur, one of four teenagers shot by Bernhard H. Goetz, the so-called subway vigilante, in one of the most highly charged and widely publicized criminal cases of the 1980s, died Thursday in the Bronx. He was 45.
Mr. Ramseur’s body was found in a motel room, the police said, without giving a cause. His death was being investigated as a drug overdose and a possible suicide, The New York Post reported.
It occurred on the 27th anniversary of the day he was shot by Goetz on a Lexington Avenue train in Lower Manhattan.
The shooting engendered a furious public discourse over rampant crime in the subway, gun control, a citizen’s right to defend himself, and race. Goetz, an electrical engineer who was 37 at the time of the shootings, is white. The four young men he shot were black.
Mr. Ramseur, then 18, and three friends admitted to approaching Goetz and asking him for the time and for a cigarette; one of them then asked for $5. Goetz, who had been mugged twice before, told the police that he thought he was going to be robbed.
He shot five times with an unregistered handgun, hitting each of the young men.
One bullet severed the spine of Darrel Cabey, who was paralyzed and suffered brain damage. The others - Troy Canty, Barry Allen, and Mr. Ramseur, who was hit in the chest - recovered from their wounds.
In 1987, Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder but found guilty of illegal weapon possession. He served 8 1/2 months in jail.
Mr. Ramseur testified at the trial, but his angry outbursts provoked the judge to disallow his testimony and order him removed from the courtroom.
He was twice cited for contempt.
Mr. Ramseur was already incarcerated at the time of the trial, having been convicted of raping, sodomizing, and robbing a young pregnant woman in 1986. He was conditionally released in 2002, but he returned to prison for a parole violation in 2005. He finished his sentence in July 2010.
Mr. Ramseur was living in the South Bronx when he was shot. According to New York State Department of Corrections records, his parents, James and Bessie, moved to New York City from North Carolina, but it was unclear where young James or his four brothers and sisters were born.
The New York Police Department said that at least one sister, Brenda, survives him.