US justice demands death penalty against Uzbek for New York attack
US justice on Monday demanded the death penalty against Uzbek Sayfullo Saipov, who killed eight people in New York in 2017 on behalf of the Islamic State group, a first for a federal trial under the mandate of Joe Biden who had nevertheless defended its abolition at the national level.
In front of a jury in Manhattan federal court, government prosecutor Amanda Houle claimed she was “asking (wait)” to impose a death sentence, not because it’s easy, but because it’s the adequate punishment in this case”.
“Adequate punishment”, she hammered.
“Sayfullo Saipov perpetrated a cruel terrorist attack in this city, on behalf of IS; he killed eight people, he tried to kill many more, he is proud of what he did,” thundered the representative of the US prosecution.
On January 26, this 35-year-old Uzbek had already been found guilty of aggravated murder and “supporting a terrorist group” by the jury of this same federal court.
It is therefore a second trial with the same 12 jurors who must decide, unanimously, the fate of Mr. Saipov, present in the courtroom, seated between his lawyers, dark jacket on white shirt, long black beard and black hair. On the benches, families of victims or survivors of the October 31, 2017 attack also took their places on Monday. a pickup over passers-by on a bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan. A deadly ride that left eight dead, including five Argentinians and a Belgian, and many injured.
Prosecutor Houle recalled that Mr. Saipov, who had pledged allegiance to IS, never expressed remorse, that “he did not abandon jihad (…) remains committed to IS” and represents “always a danger”, even in prison.
The defense for its part asked the jury to “ stop the death spiral”.
In the fall of 2017, then Republican President Donald Trump (2017-2021) immediately called for the death penalty, a position adopted by his Justice Department and maintained by the current Democratic administration of Joe Biden. In contradiction, in the eyes of human rights organizations, with candidate Biden's commitment in 2020 to abolish the death penalty at the federal level.
A moratorium on federal executions has, however, been imposed in July 2021 by Joe Biden's Justice Minister, Merrick Garland.
These were very rare anyway, with executions — six in 2023 — most often carried out by states that have not yet abolished the death penalty. Donald Trump had made an exception to this rule by ordering 13 executions, a record, at the end of his mandate.
Activists for the abolition of the death penalty criticize Joe Biden for not having commuted to the sentences of the 44 convicts who are waiting on federal death row, pointing to the risk that they will be executed under the mandate of another president.
A lawyer for Mr. Saipov, David Patton, said in late January that his client was “the only federal defendant in the whole country against whom the Department of Justice was seeking the death penalty at trial”, unlike cases where the murderer has claimed more victims, such as an anti-Hispanic killing in El Paso in 2017 (23 dead).
An “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional” decision, based on “religion and (the) origin national” of this Uzbek who arrived in the United States in 2010, according to this lawyer.
Observers see this as an exception linked to the terrorist qualification of the case retained by the courts, like the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing case. In that case, the Justice Department failed to block a Trump administration petition to the Supreme Court to reinstate death against one of the authors, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
If he were sentenced to death, Sayfullo Saipov could appeal and could not be executed under Minister Garland's moratorium anyway.
The last execution at the federal level, decided by the Manhattan court, was in 1954.