NYC bike path killer found guilty could face death penalty

NEW YORK (AP) β€” An Islamic extremist who killed eight people with a speeding truck during a rampage in 2017 on a popular New York City bike path was convicted on Thursday of federal crimes and could face the death penalty.

Sayfullo Saipov bowed his head as he heard the verdict in a Manhattan courtroom a few blocks from where the attack ended. Prosecutors said the Halloween rampage was inspired by his reverence for the Islamic State militant group.

The dozen jurors deliberated for about seven hours over two days before convicting Saipov, 34, of 28 counts of crimes, including murder for racketeering and supporting a foreign terrorist organization. Jurors will return to court no earlier than February 6 to hear more evidence that will help them decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

A death sentence for Saipov, an Uzbek citizen, would be an extreme rarity in New York. The state no longer carries out the death penalty and the last state execution was in 1963. A federal jury in New York did not hand down a death sentence that resisted legal appeals for decades, the latest execution that took place in 1954.

Even before the trial, there was no doubt that Saipov was a killer.

His attorneys admitted to the jury that he rented a van near his New Jersey home, steered it down the path along the Hudson River and mowed down cyclists for blocks before crashing on a school bus near the World Trade Center.

He got out of his truck shouting “God is great”, in Arabic, with pellet and paintball guns in his hands, before being shot by a policeman who thought they were real firearms .

Vehicle attack killed a woman from Belgium with her family, five Argentinian friends and two Americans. It left others with permanent injuries, including a woman who lost her legs.

β€œHis actions were senseless, horrific and there is no justification for them,” defense attorney David Patton told the jury during the trial.

Defense asked jurors to acquit Saipov of racketeering charges, saying he intended to be a martyr and was not conspiring with the Islamic State organization, despite voluminous amounts of the group’s propaganda found on their electronic devices and at home.

Saipov did not testify at his trial.

He sat quietly each day, unlike a 2019 preliminary hearing where he insisted on questioning the judge on why he should be tried for eight deaths when “thousands and thousands of Muslims are dying all over the world. world”.

Saipov moved to the United States legally from Uzbekistan in 2010 and lived in Ohio and Florida before joining his family in Paterson, New Jersey.

Prosecutors said Saipov attacked civilians to impress the Islamic State group so he could become a member and seemed happy with his job, smiling when he spoke to an FBI agent afterwards.

Among those who testify were several family members from Belgium who were injured in the attack. Aristide Melissas, a father, said he challenged family members to race their bikes to the World Trade Center, with the loser paying for the ice cream. When he was hit by Saipov’s truck, his skull was fractured. He underwent brain surgery.

His wife, Marion Van Reeth, said she woke up in a hospital to find her legs had been amputated.

Saipov’s lawyers said the death penalty process was irreparably tainted by former President Donald Trump, who tweeted a day after the attack. that Saipov “SHOULD GET THE DEATH PENALTY!”

President Joe Biden subsequently instituted a moratorium on executions for federal crimes.

Until Saipov’s trial, Biden’s Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, had launched no new attempts to secure the death penalty in a federal case. But Garland has authorized U.S. prosecutors to continue arguing for capital punishment in cases inherited from previous administrations.

It has been ten years since a jury in New York considered the death penalty.

Federal juries in Brooklyn have twice sentenced to death a man who murdered two New York police detectives, once in 2007 and again in 2013, but both sentences were overturned on appeal. A judge eventually ruled the killer was intellectually disabled.

In 2001, just weeks before the September 11 attacks, federal jurors in Manhattan refused to impose the death penalty on two men convicted of the deadly attacks on two American embassies in Africa. The men’s lawyers had urged jurors not to make martyrs of the defendants.