By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The man who killed eight people with a truck on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 should be spared the death penalty and instead be sent to prison for life because execution was “not necessary” to achieve justice, his lawyer told jurors on Tuesday.
Sayfullo Saipov, a 35-year-old Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted in January by a jury in Manhattan federal court of committing murder with a goal of joining the Islamic State Islamist militant group, also called ISIS.
Jurors heard closing arguments on Tuesday in the trial’s penalty phase and are expected to begin deliberations this week on whether to impose the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Saipov has been jailed since mowing down his victims with a rented U-Haul truck alongside the Hudson River on Oct. 31, 2017. More than a dozen other people were severely injured.
Federal public defender David Patton told the jury that Saipov was to blame for his actions and the grief that his victims and their relatives experienced, but it was the “right decision” to let him live.
“Meeting death with more death is not the answer,” Patton said. “The decision in front of you isn’t about more or less punishment. It is about life or death. It is a deeply moral decision.”
The trial marks the first time jurors in any case have been asked to consider the federal death penalty since U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took office in January 2021 after campaigning to abolish that punishment.
Jurors would have to agree unanimously on the death penalty, otherwise Saipov would get a life sentence.
In her own closing argument, federal prosecutor Amanda Houle displayed photos of Saipov’s bloodied victims and called him a “proud terrorist” who deserved the stiffest possible sentence.
“When ISIS called upon him to fight overseas or attack here, he chose here, this city,” Houle said. “He chose to ruin so many lives, lives he still does not value. And he chose it all for the fame of being a soldier of the caliphate for ISIS.”
The United States considers Islamic State a terrorist organization.
Patton said that if Saipov got a life sentence, he would serve it at the Colorado “Supermax” prison, where he would be confined to a tiny cell with a concrete bed for 22 or 23 hours a day, and spend recreation time in a cage by himself.
“The only two options for him,” Patton said, “are dying alone in prison, or dying in an execution chair.”
“It is not necessary to kill Sayfullo Saipov,” Patton said. “It is not necessary to do justice.”
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Berkrot)