(NEW YORK) — Sayfullo Saipov is “a proud terrorist” who deserves the death penalty for the “unremorseful slaughter of innocent civilians” during a Halloween 2017 terror attack in New York City, a prosecutor argued in federal court on Tuesday.
Saipov was convicted in January of killing eight people and trying to kill 18 more in the ISIS-inspired truck attack on a bike path adjacent to the Hudson River. It was the deadliest terror attack in New York since Sept. 11, 2001.
A jury will soon begin deliberating on whether he should get the death penalty.
During closing arguments in the penalty phase on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle showed photographs of each of the deceased victims that depicted them in the bloodied, twisted state in which they were found.
“It is brutal to look at these photographs but it is important because that brutality is exactly what the defendant intended,” Houle said. “With each death he made himself more culpable, more deserving of the ultimate punishment.”
Saipov, in a dark jacket and white shirt, sat at the defense table with his head bowed, hands in his lap and mask covering his face. Nine of the 28 counts he was convicted of carry the possibility of the death penalty.
“Murder is always terrible but when the defendant made the choice to murder multiple people he exposed himself to a harsher punishment,” Houle said. “He stole eight lives.”
Houle showed photographs of the victims with their families and reminded the jury of the anguished testimony of the victims’ relatives. Hernan Ferruchi’s widow testified her “life came crashing down.” Diego Angelini’s widow testified “she still thinks about Diego every single day” and how their children — ages 11, 9, 7 and 5 — cry because they miss him.
“The defendant chose to take so much from all of these families,” Houle said.
Ann-Laure Decadt’s baby, Joseph, was weeks old when she was killed in the attack. The jury saw photos of the mother and baby. Decadt’s mother and sister were on the bike path with her and watched her die.
“A word has not yet been invented to describe the pain she feels,” Houle said of Decadt’s mother’s testimony.
During the prosecutor’s closing statement, the husband of an FBI agent associated with the case suffered a medical episode and was taken from the courtroom. An ambulance was called.
After a recess, the defense moved for a mistrial and asked that jurors be told who the person is.
“There is no way they won’t speculate about someone sitting with the victims’ families,” defense attorney David Patton said.
At the time, the jury was watching a video that depicted the mangled school bus Saipov had struck. Children were inside and the driver was injured.
“Someone had a very strong reaction to that,” Patton said.
Federal prosecutors objected to the mistrial.
“The defendant has not been deprived of a fair trial because someone suffered a medical episode,” Houle said.
The defense compared the moment to an emotional outburst during the penalty phase by Saipov’s father, who shouted “dirty ISIS bastards” and punched the door on his way out of court.
“The two are not even close,” Judge Vernon Broderick said.
Broderick denied the mistrial and declined to identify to the jury who suffered the medical episode. He told jurors the episode “had no bearing on the case” and instructed them to disregard it.
During his closing argument, Patton said told jurors they face “an awesome responsibility and power” and should spare Saipov the death penalty and let him “die in obscurity, not as a hero, not as a martyr.”
“It is not necessary to kill Sayfullo Saipov, not for our safety or anyone else’s and not to do justice,” Patton said. “In this case, we are asking you to decide that meeting death with more death is not the answer.”
In seeking to convince jurors that Saipov would be sent to “one of the most locked-away places on the planet,” Patton showed them photographs of ADX, the maximum security prison in Colorado, along with images of the maximum security unit where he would be confined to a cell at least 22 hours a day, be allowed two 15-minute phone calls per month and three escorted showers a week.
“The width of the room is the length of the bed,” Patton said, describing a photograph of the cell. “Mr. Saipov’s life will be regulated to the nth degree.”
In the government’s rebuttal, prosecutor Jason Richman took aim at the defense’s request that Saipov serve life in prison.
“The defendant decided death,” said Richman, who noted that 17 children lost their parents in the attack. “He chose death and he chose hate. It is time for him to face the consequences of his choices.”
The jury will begin deciding Saipov’s fate after Broderick reads the charge in court on Wednesday, a process that could take several hours, the judge said. A decision for death must be unanimous.
A death sentence for Saipov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, would be the first by a federal jury in New York in decades. Federal juries in Brooklyn approved a death sentence for a man who murdered two New York police detectives in 2007 and 2013, but both sentences were tossed out on appeal.
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