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Attacker escapes death penalty in NYC bike path rampage

A split among judges means there will be no death penalty for an Islamic extremist who deliberately drove a truck into a popular New York City bike path in 2017, killing eight people and maiming others. The decision means Saifullo Saipov, 35, an Uzbekistan national who lived in New Jersey, gets an automatic life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole for the October 2017 attack.

Jurors told the judge Monday they were unable to reach the unanimous verdict necessary for the death penalty.

If the execution were carried out, it would be the first in New York in 60 years, CBS New York Report.

The verdict was the culmination of a trial that included emotional testimony from survivors of the attack and relatives of five Argentine tourists, two Americans and a Belgian woman killed.

Same jury found the accused guilty Charged with murder and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization in January.

Jurors returned last month for a penalty phase to decide whether he should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

For several days, prosecutors argued for the harshest punishment. Some of the defendant’s relatives testified that they still loved him and hoped he would eventually realize the evil of his actions.

A man leaves a note at a memorial left along a bike path to remember the victims of the New York terror attacks on Nov. 3, 2017, on Oct. 31, 2017, in New York City.

A man leaves a note at a memorial left along a bike path to remember the victims of the New York terror attacks on Nov. 3, 2017, on Oct. 31, 2017, in New York City.

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

The defendant’s responsibility for the murder was never in doubt. His lawyers acknowledged that he drove his rental truck on a sunny day along a busy lower Manhattan bike path along the Hudson River to martyrdom.

Prosecutors said he tried to kill as many people as possible. His plan to drive over the Brooklyn Bridge and kill more people is thwarted when he crashes into a school bus. He left the wrecked car shouting “God is great” in Arabic with paintballs and pellet guns before being shot by a police officer.

Prosecutors said he laughed as he requested an ISIS flag be posted on the wall of his hospital room.

Although some US states routinely send inmates to death row, such outcomes are extremely rare in New York, which no longer has the death penalty and last executed an inmate in 1963. The defendant was convicted in federal court.

A day after the attack, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that the defendant “should get the death penalty!”

President Biden promised during his campaign that he would work to abolish the federal death penalty, and no federal executions have been carried out since he took office. US Attorney General Merrick Garland imposed a moratorium on executions for federal crimes in 2021, but allowed US prosecutors to continue advocating for the death penalty in cases inherited from the previous administration.

During his trial, the defendant appeared to be motivated by testimony from his father and sisters. Otherwise he sat quietly, his shoulders hunched, as he listened through headphones to testimonies from the victims, including a Belgian woman who lost her leg and her husband, who needed brain surgery because of the attack.

Defendant waived opportunity to testify at trial. But during his 2019 pretrial hearing, he appeared before Judge Vernon S. Broderick lectured the American legal system, insisting that he could not be prosecuted for the eight deaths “when thousands of Muslims have died all over the world.”

During closing arguments in the penalty phase on Tuesday, lawyers made a final appeal to the judges.

Assistant US Attorney Amanda Howell called for the death penalty for the defendant’s “reckless killing of innocent civilians.”

Defense attorney David Patton called for a life sentence, saying his client would then “die in prison in obscurity, not as a martyr, not as a hero to anyone.”

Defendant came to the United States legally from Uzbekistan in 2010 and lived in Ohio and Florida before moving to Paterson, New Jersey.

His death penalty trial was the first in New York in a decade.

In 2007 and again in 2013, federal juries in Brooklyn sentenced a man to death who killed two New York police detectives, but both sentences were overturned on appeal before a judge ruled the killer was mentally disabled.

In 2001, a Manhattan federal jury rejected the death penalty for two men convicted of the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa after their lawyers argued against martyring the defendants.

The last time a person was executed for a federal crime in New York was in 1954.

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