Crime & Safety

Jury to decide Monday if Islamic extremist, who killed eight people on a New York City bike path, will get death sentence

NEW YORK – On Monday, a jury will start deciding if an Islamic extremist who killed eight people on a New York City bike path should get the death penalty, which is a very rare punishment in a state where there hasn’t been an execution in 60 years.

Sayfullo Saipov, who was 35 at the time, was found guilty last month of the 2017 attack in which he drove a truck fast down a path along the Hudson River, hitting and killing bicyclists on a sunny morning before the city’s Halloween celebrations.

In the penalty phase of the trial, the same jury that found Saipov guilty will go back to work and hear from more witnesses. If Saipov doesn’t get the death penalty by a unanimous vote, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Saipov’s lawyers want to persuade the jury that giving him a life sentence is enough punishment for a killing spree in which he killed five friends from Argentina, a woman from Belgium, and two Americans.

New York doesn’t have the death penalty and hasn’t put anyone to death since 1963. However, Saipov’s trial is in federal court, where the death penalty is still a possibility, though it’s rarely used. In New York, the last time someone was put to death for a federal crime was in 1954.

As soon as he took office, President Joe Biden put a stop to all federal executions, and his Justice Department has not started any new death penalty cases until now.

Lawyers for Saipov have said that it is against the Constitution for prosecutors to try to get him executed when they have stopped trying to get people who killed more people put to death in so many other cases.

In a recent court filing, they said, “There is no rhyme, reason, or pattern to why the government seeks the death penalty in some murder cases but not in others.”

They pointed out that President Trump quickly called for Saipov to be put to death, tweeting a day after the attack that he “SHOULD GET THE DEATH PENALTY!” The lawyers said it was a way for Trump to move forward with “his plan to hurt immigrants.”

“It is fair to worry that the death penalty sometimes (and wrongly) depends on the race, ethnicity, national origin, and religious beliefs of the defendant,” they wrote.

Even in attacks that killed more people, like the 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 Walmart customers, the goal was not to kill, the lawyers said.

The lawyers said that it seemed arbitrary for the U.S. Justice Department to “spare some defendants but single out Mr. Saipov, a Muslim immigrant, for the death penalty, even though their guilt is arguably greater.”

Prosecutors are likely to focus on the people Saipov hurt. In the first part of his trial, jurors heard from survivors about how horrifying and sad it was to lose loved ones and how painful their injuries still are. As the prosecutors make their case over the next week, they were likely to use more emotional testimony like this.

Saipov, on the other hand, hasn’t changed his mind since he was shot by a police officer after getting out of his truck and waving pellet and paintball guns at him. Later, when he was in a hospital bed, the man from Uzbekistan smiled and asked that a flag of the group called Islamic State, which inspired his attack, be put on the wall of his room, prosecutors said.

The prosecutors want to show the jury that Saipov may still be able to talk to people who support him if he is kept alive.

In one pre-trial document, they wrote that a Federal Bureau of Prisons officer was ready to say that Saipov asked a guard last year to give a bag of candy to another inmate who was not allowed to talk to other people because of strict rules. Prosecutors said that the bag had a note for the other inmate that said they would soon be with other religious fans.

Even before the trial started, Saipov’s lawyers said he would be willing to plead guilty and agree to life in prison if the death penalty was not sought.

Any death sentence given by the jury would probably be challenged for years.

In 2003, a man who killed two police officers was the subject of the last federal death penalty case in New York. Once in 2007 and again in 2013, a federal jury in Brooklyn gave a death sentence, but each time, the sentence was overturned on appeal.

Jordan Collins

Jordan is an experienced editor with years in the journalism and reporting industry. He loves talking with the community about the problems local residents face and state politics. You can find him in the gym almost every day or see him jogging.

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