- The New York City truck attack suspect is seeking a deal that would exchange a guilty plea for prosecutors’ guarantee that he will not face the death penalty.
- Sayfullo Saipov faces 22 federal charges, including eight counts of murder and one count of supporting a terrorist organization.
- Saipov’s defense team argued in a letter that a swift plea deal will spare the victims’ families the need to undergo a lengthy death penalty trial and subsequent appeals.
Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of killing eight and injuring 11 when he drove a rented pickup truck down a Manhattan bike path last Halloween, is seeking a plea bargain that would leave him imprisoned for life if prosecutors agree not to seek the death penalty.
“The Government expresses concern about the victims’ and the public’s need for closure in this case, but the most straightforward way to achieve closure would be for the Government to accept a plea of guilty and a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” a letter filed to federal court on Wednesday by Saipov’s defense attorneys said.
They argued in the letter that such a plea deal would spare the victims’ families the need to participate in a death penalty trial and potentially undergo “years of appeals and other post-conviction litigation as required by the Constitution in the event of a death sentence.”
Saipov faces 22 federal charges, including eight counts of murder in the aid of racketeering activity, 11 counts of attempted murder in the aid of racketeering activity, one count of providing material support and resources to the terrorist group ISIS, and one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles.
Each of those counts carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty, though it’s unclear if prosecutors will seek it or if they will be amenable to a plea bargain.
Terrorism cases that involve the death penalty are rare, especially in New York, but some legal experts have voiced concerns that pressure from the Trump administration could sway the prosecution’s decision.
The deadly attack began in the afternoon of October 31, when prosecutors say Saipov drove a rented Home Depot pickup truck onto a busy Manhattan bike lane, veering into his victims and colliding with a school bus before jumping out and brandishing two guns that were later determined by police to be fake.
Saipov was arrested after being shot in the abdomen by a police officer shortly after the crash.
Saipov later admitted to authorities that he wrote a note found near the crashed truck, which was written in Arabic and said the Islamic State would endure forever, according to a criminal complaint.
He said he was was motivated to carry out the attack after watching a video featuring ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asking what Muslims in the US were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.
Saipov also asked during his interview with authorities if he could display the ISIS flag in his hospital room after the attack. He told them that “he felt good about what he had done,” the complaint said.
In the immediate aftermath of the October attack, President Donald Trump publicly and repeatedly demanded that Saipov be sentenced to death.
“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump said on Twitter.
He continued: “Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system … There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”