Sayfullo Saipov, the lone wolf who, inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS), killed eight people on a New York bike path in 2017, has escaped the death penalty thanks to the lack of agreement between the members of a federal jury about the sentence to be imposed. Faced with such a possibility due to the seriousness of the attack he perpetrated, Saipov, a 35-year-old Uzbek, has benefited from the fact that in order to hand down the death sentence, the jury’s decision had to be reached unanimously.
After months of deliberations and after listening to more than 20 witnesses, including the wounded who survived the attack and relatives of the eight victims (five friends from Argentina, a Belgian woman and two Americans), the jury must pronounce the sentence, which will be life in prison without parole. Saipov is scheduled to serve his sentence in Colorado’s maximum security prison, the most secure federal prison in the US.
The Uzbek national, who traveled alone to the US, was found guilty in January. At the wheel of a truck, Saipov sped at the entrance to a bike path that runs parallel to the Hudson River, especially crowded that sunny Halloween morning in 2017. His goal was to prove his allegiance to ISIS to be admitted as a combatant, a loyalty which, five years later, still holds. “The defendant remains committed to jihad (holy war), ISIS and violence,” federal prosecutor Amanda Houle stated last week in her conclusions, while describing the terrorist as “proud, defiant and unrepentant.”
Saipov is the first inmate to face a federal death penalty trial during the Administration of President Joe Biden, who during the electoral campaign promised to abolish this practice, unlike his predecessor in the White House, Donald Trump, who in the final stretch of his mandate increased the rate of executions. “He has no remorse and the evidence shows that he is dangerous even in prison,” prosecutor Houle said of Saipov in February. “The United States requests the most severe penalty provided by law: the death sentence,” she said, a sentence unprecedented in the state for six decades.
The 12 jurors agreed on aggravating factors that would have favored capital punishment, such as the fact that he planned the attack and carried it out on behalf of ISIS. But the final verdict, read Monday by U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan federal court, underscores that they failed to agree on mitigating factors, such as their family network or the promise of repentance that potentially entails jailing. for life.
The testimonies heard during the process abound in the risk presented by the defendant. Two Federal Bureau of Prisons officials described Saipov’s belligerent behavior behind bars at the two New York prisons where he has been held. “He keeps threatening to kill people in prison, threatening to slit the throats of prison officers,” one of them told the court. Her partner witnessed how Saipov violently pounded on the door and window of his cell, shouting “I’m going to cut off heads.” “If this man had broken the window, I don’t know what he would have been able to do,” she stated.
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Among the testimonies of the defense, that of another jihadist prisoner, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, also incarcerated in the Colorado prison and who testified by videoconference to questions about the living conditions in that compound, stood out. Mohamed and another accomplice, convicted of the synchronized bombings of two US embassies in Africa that killed 224 people in 1998, were the last two defendants to face a possible death penalty in Manhattan federal court. Despite being considered proven that Mohamed helped prepare the bomb that exploded at the Tanzanian legation, a jury in 2001 rejected a death sentence.
New York does not apply the death penalty and has not executed anyone since 1963, but Saipov’s trial has been held in federal court, where the death penalty remains an option. The last time a person was executed for a federal crime in New York was 1954. Following Biden’s inauguration, his attorney general, Merrick Garland, announced a moratorium on federal executions, though he has allowed prosecutors to continue to advocate for capital punishment in cases inherited from previous Administrations. In another similar process, with wide media repercussions, the Supreme Court restored the death penalty a year ago for the terrorist who attacked the Boston Marathon in 2013, the also jihadist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, dismissing the federal moratorium.
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