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Jury mulls death penalty or life for man in bike path attack

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York jury began deliberating Wednesday whether to impose the death penalty or grant life in prison to a man convicted of killing eight individuals on a Manhattan bike path five years ago in a terrorist attack.

The same jury of 12 that convicted Sayfullo Saipov in late January in the Halloween 2017 rampage began considering his fate after U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick read them the legal rules they must follow to reach a decision. After about 2 1/2 hours of deliberations, jurors were sent home. Deliberations were paused early Thursday when a juror said he could no longer serve because of a family emergency.

They had deliberated only 10 minutes Wednesday when the jury foreperson sent a note to the judge asking whether the panel can discuss that lethal injection is the current U.S. death penalty method and that there's currently a moratorium on federal executions.

Broderick told jurors that neither subject was proper for discussion during deliberations and told them not to consider either issue.

Jurors will have to agree unanimously that Saipov should be put to death or the 35-year-old former Paterson, New Jersey, resident will spend the rest of his life in a high-security prison.

Lawyers for Saipov, a Uzbekistan citizen, never contested that he killed eight people by speeding a rented truck across a bike path in lower Manhattan that is popular with tourists. Killed were a woman visiting from Belgium with her family, five friends from Argentina and two Americans. Eighteen others were seriously injured.

Saipov's attorneys asked jurors to spare him the death penalty, noting how several members of his family including his father and sisters expressed hope that someday he would realize how wrong he was to carry out a terrorist attack hoping to win favor with the Islamic State group.

And they emphasized that he would spend the rest of his life in seclusion, likely confined to a small cell for at least 22 hours a day with two 15-minute phone calls allowed each month to his family and a few showers permitted each week.

Prosecutors urged death, saying Saipov never showed compassion for any of his victims as he sought to kill as many people as he could, even confessing that he had hoped to go to the Brooklyn Bridge after the bike path assault so he could kill more people there.

Afterward, they said, he smiled proudly as he told FBI agents about his attack, even requesting that they hang the flag of the Islamic State organization in his hospital room, where he was recovering from a gunshot wound after a police officer ended his attack.

A day after the attack, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that Saipov “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”

After Joe Biden became president, his attorney general, Merrick Garland, announced a moratorium on federal executions, though he has allowed U.S. prosecutors to continue advocating for capital punishment in cases inherited from previous administrations.

A federal jury in New York has not rendered a death sentence that has withstood legal appeals in decades, with the last execution in 1954. New York state, which no longer has the death penalty, has not executed anyone since 1963.