Prosecutor seeks death for man in New York bike path attack

Posted at 8:05 PM, March 7, 2023 and last updated 4:31 PM, May 2, 2023

By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. prosecutor displayed grisly crime-scene photos as he urged a jury Tuesday to impose the death penalty on a “proud terrorist” who killed eight people in a vehicle attack in New York City in 2017, while defense lawyers insisted death was not the answer.

In this courtroom sketch, Sayfullo Saipov, center, speaks with one of his defense attorneys prior to the beginning of summations in the penalty phase off his trial in federal court in New York, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle told jurors that defendant Sayfullo Saipov, 35, “chose to violently smash and crush his victims, who were defenseless and included a child” with his Halloween day truck attack.

She reminded jurors of the horror of the day by showing them gory pictures of the dead, some with clothing torn away, and by reminding them of the tearful testimony of their family members and some of the 18 individuals who suffered injuries but survived.

“It is brutal to look at these photographs. But it is important,” Houle said.

The images affected one man sitting among families of the victims so strongly that he appeared to lose consciousness, leading the judge to interrupt Houle’s closing long enough for an ambulance to be summoned. The man later walked into the ambulance.

In this courtroom sketch, David Patton, left, defense attorney for Sayfullo Saipov, presents his summation to the jury as a photo of the jail cell where Saipov would be sent, if the jury decides against the death penalty, is displayed on monitors during the penalty phase off Saipov’s trial in federal court in New York, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Judge Vernon Broderick, background center, presides. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

A defense lawyer, David Patton, told jurors in closing statements in federal court that death was not the answer for his client, a Uzbekistan citizen.

In his closing to the same federal jury that convicted Saipov in January, defense lawyer Patton said a death sentence was not necessary, especially since a decision against death would mean his client would spend of the rest of life in extreme isolation at the nation’s most secure federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

“I know he committed a horribly, horribly violent crime,” Patton said.

Before the summation had resumed, Patton requested a mistrial over the prosecutor’s images, citing “traumatic imagery” so dramatic that it so affected a man, the husband of an FBI agent, who was sitting among victims’ families. Patton said a woman seated nearby also seemed to have been affected by the images.

The judge denied the request at a trial that has featured numerous days of testimony by emotional witnesses and gruesome images and videos from the killing scene.

In this courtroom sketch, Sayfullo Saipov, second left, is seated at the defense table with eyes closed during government summations as a photo of one of his victims is displayed on a monitor during the penalty phase off his trial in federal court in New York, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

Houle said the death penalty was appropriate because of choices made in planning the attack and carrying it out, “choices of Sayfullo Saipov, a proud terrorist.”

“He chose to come to this country and then fight for an enemy,” the prosecutor said. “In our system of justice, the highest punishment is reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes.”

Prosecutors said at a trial that resulted in guilty verdicts against Saipov in late January that Saipov admitted to FBI agents that he carried out the attack on behalf of the Islamic State group and would have continued to the Brooklyn Bridge to kill others if he had not crashed his truck and been shot by a police officer.

Patton suggested that if left alive, Saipov may “10 years from now, maybe longer,” question what he had done, just as his closest relatives said they hoped would happen if he lived.

“Now maybe he won’t,” his lawyer said, “If he doesn’t, he will still die alone in prison.”