An alleged terrorist charged with killing eight people in Manhattan will be on trial for his life beginning this week, in a rare case in which federal prosecutors are seeking a death sentence. Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek man who lived in New Jersey, is accused of intentionally driving a truck into a bicycle path in 2017 to run over cyclists and pedestrians. He was inspired by Islamic State to carry out the attack, prosecutors say. His lawyers have argued that capital punishment violates his constitutional rights, saying the sentence is rarely sought in federal cases and is applied arbitrarily, the Wall Street Journal reports. The lawyers appealed directly to Attorney General Merrick Garland to withdraw the death penalty from the case but were turned down. The death-penalty trial will be the first to take place during President Biden’s administration and comes as Garland has put a moratorium on federal executions while he reviews policies and protocols from the Trump administration that led to the highest rate of federal executions in over a century.
If Saipov were to be sentenced to death while the moratorium is still in place, he wouldn’t be executed, although the appeals process for any sentence could take years. Prosecutors allege that on the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2017 Saipov drove a rented flatbed truck over the George Washington Bridge and down Manhattan’s West Side Highway. When he reached lower Manhattan, he drove into the adjacent bike lane and walkway, striking people and hitting a school bus, they say. Saipov faces eight counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder and one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Jurors will be asked to determine first whether Saipov is guilty and then, if he is convicted of capital murder, whether to impose the death penalty or life in prison. The jury would have to reach a unanimous decision to sentence him to death.