Death Penalty Deliberations Start Over in NYC Terror Case After Juror No-Show

Sayfullo Saipov was convicted in late January of killing eight people in a Halloween 2017 terror attack on a Manhattan bike path. Now the jury has to decide if he should live

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What to Know

  • The jury deciding whether to put convicted NYC bike path killer Sayfullo Saipov to death had to restart that part of the deliberations Thursday because a juror was missing; the absence ended up being excused
  • The federal judge opted for an alternate, siding with the prosecution, rather than a mistrial as the defense requested; the previous jury of 12 convicted Saipov of killing 8 people in a 2017 terror attack in Manhattan
  • A federal jury in New York has not rendered a death sentence that has withstood legal appeals in decades, with the last execution in 1954. New York state, which no longer has the death penalty, has not executed anyone since 1963.

Deliberations in a rare New York death penalty case had to start over Thursday, less than a day into the discussions, because of a missing juror -- whose absence ended up excused because his brother had a heart attack.

Jurors already convicted Sayfullo Saipov of killing eight individuals on a Manhattan bike path five years ago in a terrorist attack. The verdict came in late January, though the death penalty phase of deliberations started last week, on March 1. Should the jury of 12 decide to put Saipov to death, their vote would have to be unanimous. If even one juror holds out, the 35-year-old former Paterson, New Jersey, resident spends the rest of his days in a high-security prison.

The judge initially halted deliberations entirely as the juror's absence was investigated. Once the brother's illness was confirmed, they returned to court. The judge sided with the prosecution's request for an alternate juror rather than taking the side of the defense, which asked for a mistrial. The process of replacing the absent juror lasted through Thursday morning.

Deliberations started over later in the day with the new juror in place, and lasted until the jury stated they could not reach a decision Thursday. Deliberations will resume on Monday.

The group hadn't gotten far. They spent about 2 1/2 hours deliberating Wednesday before they were sent home. It only took 10 minutes for them to send their first note a day ago. They asked the judge whether the panel can discuss that lethal injection is the current U.S. death penalty method and that there's currently a moratorium on federal executions.

U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick told jurors that neither subject was proper for discussion during deliberations and told them not to consider either issue.

Lawyers for Saipov, a Uzbekistan citizen, never contested that he killed eight people by speeding a rented truck across a bike path in lower Manhattan that is popular with tourists. Killed were a woman visiting from Belgium with her family, five friends from Argentina and two Americans. Eighteen others were seriously injured.

Saipov's attorneys asked jurors to spare him the death penalty, noting how several members of his family including his father and sisters expressed hope that someday he would realize how wrong he was to carry out a terrorist attack hoping to win favor with the Islamic State group.

And they emphasized that he would spend the rest of his life in seclusion, likely confined to a small cell for at least 22 hours a day with two 15-minute phone calls allowed each month to his family and a few showers permitted each week.

Erica Byfield reporting on the ongoing death penalty trial.

Prosecutors have urged death, saying Saipov never showed compassion for any of his victims as he sought to kill as many people as he could, even confessing that he had hoped to go to the Brooklyn Bridge after the bike path assault so he could kill more people there.

Afterward, they said, he smiled proudly as he told FBI agents about his attack, even requesting that they hang the flag of the Islamic State organization in his hospital room, where he was recovering from a gunshot wound after a police officer ended his attack.

A day after the attack, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that Saipov “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”

President Joe Biden subsequently imposed a moratorium on executions for federal crimes, but his attorney general, Merrick Garland, has allowed U.S. prosecutors to continue advocating for capital punishment in cases inherited from previous administrations.

A federal jury in New York has not rendered a death sentence that has withstood legal appeals in decades, with the last execution in 1954. New York state, which no longer has the death penalty, has not executed anyone since 1963.

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