A federal judge barred the general public and media from a courtroom where defense lawyers claim emotional testimony from victims has spoiled the death penalty phase of the trial of a man who admits that he killed eight people on a bike path for a terrorist group, reports the Associated Press. Judge Vernon Broderick issued the edict at the trial of Sayfullo Saipov through a court spokesperson, who wrote that courtroom seats would be available only to witnesses or parties considered essential to the trial. The judge said that a few reporters might be allowed at the trial Wednesday on a “bench all the way in the back” of the courtroom. The public and the media were excluded in part to make room for Saipov’s family members and numerous victims and family members of those who were killed. Victims have attended the trial for weeks, providing tearful testimony about how their lives have changed. Saipov last month was convicted of killing eight people on Oct. 31, 2017, by driving a rented truck over the bike path along the Hudson River at high speed. He asked to hang a flag for the Islamic State group in his hospital room while he recovered from a police officer shooting him. After hearing witnesses over an expected two weeks, the jury that convicted him will decide whether he gets death or life in prison. If any jurors vote against death, he will automatically serve life in prison.
The judge directed the public and the media to watch the trial on television monitors in the courthouse. Those monitors show only a sliver of the courtroom and rely on lawyers, witnesses and the judge speaking into microphones and on court personnel remembering to switch on video and audio. The monitors do not enable members of the media to observe the courtroom reactions of Saipov’s family members or the victims and family members of those who died. Their reactions grew in relevance after defense lawyers argued that a mistrial should be declared because the volume of emotional testimony seems designed to make jurors choose a death sentence out of anger or spite or to prevent Saipov from communicating with his children, because those he killed can no longer speak with theirs. In a letter joined by The Associated Press, New York Times attorney Dana Green urged the judge to recognize that a live video feed providing a narrow view of the courtroom was not an adequate substitute for being in the courtroom. She urged the judge to allow at least a small number of seats for a press pool. The New York Post and the Daily News supported the request.