Verdict reached in Sayfullo Saipov’s death penalty case

Accused New York City Pedestrian Bicyclist Bicyclist Terrorist Home Depot Truck

Sayfullo Saipov (Image via Mugshot Handout/Getty Images.)

Convicted terrorist Sayfullo Saipov of New York City escaped the death penalty Monday after a jury failed to return a unanimous verdict as Empire State grand juries maintain their longstanding anti-death penalty tradition.

More than half a century has passed since a federal court in New York sentenced a defendant to death. Monday’s development means the record stands.

The jury split is unclear from the verdict form. The jury agreed on most of the aggravating factors but one – divided on whether Saipov would commit future criminal acts of violence in prison.

They also largely agreed on the mitigating factors: namely that Saipov will already be in prison for life and has spent 22 hours a day alone in his cell in the H unit of ADX prison.

On Halloween 2017, Saipov intentionally drove a rental truck off the West Side Highway onto a bike and pedestrian lane, killing eight people and injuring 12. Home Depot truck stopped after crashing into a special needs school bus.

A wealth of evidence, including Saipov’s own words, linked the defendant to the crime, but the penalty phase of the trial would determine whether a New York City jury would decide whether he should be executed, despite the deep blue state’s long-standing aversion to the crime Death penalty.

New York abolished the death penalty in 2004, but the death penalty still stands in federal courts, where Saipov was tried.

Despite his stated reservations about the death penalty, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department asked a jury to vote in favor of the death of Saipov, whose case began during Donald Trump’s presidency. Garland imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in July 2021 pending what he described as a review of the department’s “policies and procedures.” His office nevertheless followed Saipov’s execution for years after that announcement.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, but also treated fairly and humanely. This obligation is especially true in capital cases,” Garland wrote in a two-page memorandum. “Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including the arbitrariness of its use, the uneven impact it has on people of color, and the worrying number of exonerations in deaths and other serious cases.”

In opening statements on the sentencing phase, Assistant US Attorney Amanda Leigh Houle told a jury that the torture of Saipov’s victims calls for nothing less.

“Their minds are still haunted, terrorized because they face death and watch others die. And that was all part of the defendant’s plan,” Houle said, adding that Saipov “didn’t give up his jihad, his fight.”

As he got out of the truck, Saipov was heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” Police shot him at the scene before taking him to Bellevue Hospital for medical treatment. There, authorities say, Saipov asked for the Islamic State group’s flag to be hung in his hospital room.

“Cellphones recovered from the truck contained, among other things, videos and images of ISIS propaganda, as well as internet searches for truck rentals and Halloween in New York City,” the Justice Department said at the time Saipov was charged, claiming that the defendant chose the holiday because more people would be outside to aim.

Saipov’s attorney, David Stern, of Rothman, Schneider, Soloway & Stern, LLP, told the jury they had only one choice to make: “Whether or not a fellow human being is going to live or die.”

“He’s going to die in prison,” Stern said, referring to Saipov. “The only question is when.”

The only alternative sentence available to Saipov on his charges is life imprisonment.

Before the trial began, The New York Times reported that the last federal death penalty imposed in New York was almost seven decades ago in 1954, in the case of bank robber Gerhard A. Puff, who killed an FBI agent. Saipov’s family is from Uzbekistan and two of his victims are from Belgium and Argentina, all countries without the death penalty, the newspaper noted.

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