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Manhattan attack suspect plea deal avoiding potential death penalty pushed by defense

Manhattan attack suspect Sayfullo Saipov is pushing for

Manhattan attack suspect Sayfullo Saipov is pushing for a plea deal for a guilty plea and a sentence of life in prison, his lawyers indicated on Wednesday, Jan. 2018. Photo Credit: AP; New York Daily News / James Keivom

Attorneys for accused West Side bike-path terrorist Sayfullo Saipov are trying to convince prosecutors to let him plead guilty and receive a sentence of life in prison without parole instead of seeking the death penalty at trial, according to letter filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday.

The letter from federal defender David Patton and other Saipov attorneys, urging U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick to not yet set a trial date, was the first indication that Saipov is prepared to plead to the attack that killed eight people last year if he can avoid facing the death penalty at trial.

“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,” Patton wrote. “That outcome would obviate the need for the victims’ families to prepare for and participate in a trial and prevent years of appeals and other post-conviction litigation . . . in the event of a death sentence.”

Saipov, 29, of Paterson, New Jersey, was indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering for allegedly mowing down victims on a bike path in October. In addition to eight dead, twelve were injured in the attack. Saipov has said he supports the Islamic State and wanted to achieve maximum carnage.

President Donald Trump has called for the death penalty in the case, but prosecutors have not yet signaled whether they will ask for capital punishment. That decision would be made by the Attorney General following a Justice Department process that includes submissions by prosecutors and the defense.

The letter from Saipov’s defense lawyers came one day after prosecutors urged Broderick to set an April, 2019 trial date for Saipov, arguing that because victims, their families and witnesses were from Argentina, Belgium and Germany a long lead time is needed to assure their availability.

The government also argued that victims have an interest in a speedy trial that will bring “closure.”

“It is deeply traumatic for those bereaved, seriously injured or otherwise traumatized victims and their families to endure reliving Saipov’s attack . . . and victims have already expressed to the government concern about delays to the process,” prosecutors said.

Saipov’s lawyers say it is premature to set a trial date without knowing if it will be a death penalty trial, and that if the government wants closure and certainty it should be willing to accept a plea and a life sentence.

“A decision by the Government not to seek the death penalty would bring immediate closure to the case without the need for the public and victims to repeatedly relive the terrible events of Oct. 21, 2017,” the letter said.

Broderick has scheduled the next conference in the case for Jan. 23.

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