By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Thursday convicted a man who used a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 on murder and terrorism charges, in the first federal death penalty trial of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
After finding Sayfullo Saipov guilty of committing murder with the goal of joining the militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the Manhattan jury will return on Feb. 6 to consider whether the death penalty is appropriate punishment.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick instructed the jurors not to talk about the case until they return.
The only point of contention between prosecutors and Saipov’s lawyers was whether the defendant carried out the attack in order to join Islamic State, which the United States brands a terrorist organization.
Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted on all of the 28 counts he faced.
These included murder and attempted murder to gain entrance to Islamic State, providing material support to a terrorist organization, and damage or destruction of a motor vehicle. Saipov had pleaded not guilty.
Wearing a mask and a headset to listen to an interpreter, Saipov looked downwards as the verdict was read, and then spoke with one of his lawyers.
Jason Richman, a prosecutor, told jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday that Saipov had asked to hang the Islamic State flag in the hospital where he was treated after the Oct. 31, 2017 attack.
“He was happy about the terrorist attack he had unleashed,” Richman said. “He had done his part, he earned his way in, and he wanted to show the world.”
David Patton, a federal public defender representing Saipov, conceded in his closing argument that the defendant conducted the attack, but said he expected to die and become a martyr for Islam, not join the Islamic State.
Patton also said Saipov was “steeped in ISIS propaganda” at the time.
“He didn’t expect to be here before all of you,” Patton said. “And he didn’t expect to be joining any organization. And that means he’s not guilty.”
The U.S. Department of Justice said in September that it intends to seek the death penalty for Saipov, despite a moratorium on federal executions since July 2021 as the department reviews the practice.
Saipov, who last worked as an Uber driver in Paterson, New Jersey, could also be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He has been jailed since his arrest on the day of the attack.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio)