New York bike path attacker spared death penalty after jury deadlocks
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Sayfullo Saipov, the man convicted of killing eight people in an attack on a Manhattan bike path in 2017, was spared the death penalty on Monday after a federal jury deadlocked on whether he should be executed.
As a result, Saipov will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. A unanimous decision had been required under federal law for a death sentence, which prosecutors had sought.
Saipov is expected to be housed at Colorado's Supermax facility, the most secure U.S. federal prison.
The 35-year-old Uzbek national had been convicted in January of murder with a goal of joining Islamic State, or ISIS, a group the United States designates a "terrorist" organization. His jury was reconvened to consider Saipov's punishment.
Saipov's case is the first federal death penalty trial since President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took office in 2021 after pledging during his campaign to abolish capital punishment.
"In the end, Saipov's actions have highlighted one of the pillars of the rule of law in this country: the right to a full and fair public trial," Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a statement after the verdict.
Saipov's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the trial's penalty phase, jurors heard from survivors of the attack who testified about their ongoing suffering, and jail officers who described Saipov's outbursts and threats since his arrest.
"The defendant is still committed to jihad and ISIS and violence," prosecutor Amanda Houle said in her closing argument on March 7.
In its verdict form, read aloud by U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick, the 12-person jury said it could not unanimously agree whether Saipov was likely to commit criminal acts of violence in prison.
Jurors agreed that other aggravating factors weighed in favor of the death penalty, including that Saipov planned his attack in advance and carried it out to support Islamic State.
They also agreed on several mitigating factors, including that many of Saipov's family members still loved him, and that a life sentence might give him time to realize what he did was wrong.
After the verdict was read, Saipov shook hands with David Patton, the federal public defender who represented him, before being led out of the courtroom by officers.
Patton said in his closing argument that the death penalty was "not necessary to do justice."
He said Saipov would spend 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a cell with a concrete bed if sentenced to life in prison.
"We can't rewind the clock and make it so that this senseless crime never happened," Patton said. "We're asking you to decide that the right decision is life."
Prosecutors sought the death penalty despite U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's July 2021 moratorium on federal executions so the Department of Justice could review its use of the punishment.
Federal executions had resumed in 2020 under President Donald Trump, a Republican, after a 17-year hiatus. Thirteen were carried out before Trump left office in 2021.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)