(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.
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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