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Manhattan bike path terror attack: Prosecutors to seek death penalty

Sayfullo Saipov is accused in the terror attack that killed eight as he mowed down people along the West Side Highway bike path last Halloween, prosecutors have said.

Sayfullo Saipov is accused of driving a pickup

Sayfullo Saipov is accused of driving a pickup truck onto a bike path along the West Side Highway in lower Manhattan, resulting in eight deaths, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

Manhattan federal prosecutors on Friday filed a notice that they will seek the death penalty against Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of a terror attack that killed eight in a truck attack along the West Side bike path in Manhattan last October.

Prosecutors cited his alleged terrorist motives as “aggravating factors” justifying the death penalty, alleging Saipov targeted the bike path last Halloween to maximize devastation, “instill fear in New Yorkers and tourists,” and to support the Islamic State.

Saipov, 30, of Paterson, New Jersey, a lawful permanent resident who came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010, allegedly used a rented van in the attack, wounded more than a dozen in addition to the fatalities, and told agents afterward that he was inspired by ISIS.

The death notice followed a lengthy approval process at the Justice Department. It said death was justified on eight murder counts and one count of using a motor vehicle as a weapon because of factors including the “depraved manner” of the crime, premeditation, multiple victims, lack of remorse and future dangerousness.

Saipov’s legal team had argued against the death penalty,  saying Saipov would plead guilty and spare victims and families from testifying if capital punishment was taken off the table. Saipov’s lead lawyer said Friday he was “disappointed” by the death notice.

“We think the decision to seek the death penalty rather than accepting a guilty plea to life in prison with no possibility of release will only prolong the trauma of these events for everyone involved,” said public defender David Patton.

Prosecutors on Friday also defended tweets by President Donald Trump calling Saipov a “degenerate animal” who “should get death penalty” against a defense motion to take the death penalty decision away from the Justice Department because the president had compromised its independent judgment.

Urging U.S District Judge Vernon Broderick to deny the request to either ban the death penalty or turn the decision over to an independent counsel, the government noted that a similar defense claim was rejected when President Bill Clinton urged the death penalty after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building.

“It is unremarkable that the President possesses strong views concerning the attack at issue in this case, which constituted one of the most horrific acts of terrorism in this country since September 11, 2001,” prosecutors told Broderick, arguing Trump’s views represented only “general zealousness in the enforcement process.”

Prosecutors also argued Saipov’s claim was based on “speculative leaps.”

“The Attorney General might be concerned about losing his job (although there is no evidence that he is),” prosecutors wrote. “The Attorney General might be influenced by the President’s public statements about Saipov (although there is no evidence he is).”

Saipov’s trial is scheduled for October 2019.

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