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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bike-path killer is sentenced to life as victims speak out

Marion Van Reeth, who lost both legs after being struck by a truck on a bicycle path along the Hudson River in 2017, arrives at Federal District Court in New York for the sentencing of Sayfullo Saipov on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

By Benjamin Weiser and Lola Fadulu

A Manhattan jury had already decided that Sayfullo Saipov would be sentenced to life imprisonment this week for carrying out the 2017 terrorist attack on a West Side bike path that killed eight people, including six foreign tourists.

But before Judge Vernon S. Broderick imposed that sentence, about 20 victims, family members and others addressed the court, in person or in writing, aiming their anger, sadness and, in a few cases, their forgiveness directly at Saipov.

Among the spectators at the daylong hearing were many of the 12 jurors who participated in the two-month trial and weighed whether Saipov, 35, should receive the death penalty or life in prison. Because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, Saipov received an automatic life sentence.

The jury foreman, J.P. Patrick, 69, of Yorktown Heights, New York, revealed after the hearing that during the deliberations, the jury originally was split with eight jurors favoring capital punishment and four in favor of life imprisonment. Ultimately, he said, the jurors deadlocked at 7-5 in favor of a life sentence.

Patrick said the jury left the deliberation room “believing we had done our job soberly, intelligently and with compassion.”

Prosecutors said during the trial that Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, told authorities after his arrest that he was proud of what he had done and had carried out the attack to become a member of the Islamic State group.

Amanda Houle, one of the prosecutors, said Wednesday that Saipov “delights in the suffering he has caused these victims.”

“Every indication from the evidence,” Houle said, “is that the defendant would do this again if he could.”

Saipov, speaking through an Uzbek interpreter, also addressed the court. Showing no remorse, he spoke for almost an hour, ultimately focusing on what he said was the persecution of Muslims around the world.

Saipov said that if a Muslim kills “one unbeliever anywhere,” people will talk about that crime “for months and months,” but that they do not talk “about innocent Muslims dying” in many other places.

Broderick imposed eight consecutive life sentences on Saipov — one for each fatality — and consecutive sentences totaling 260 years on other counts.

“The conduct in this case is among the worst if not the worst I have ever seen,” Broderick said, “both in terms of the impact it had on these victims and the sheer unrepentant nature of the defendant.”

As the victims spoke, Saipov remained mostly expressionless, sitting by his lawyers and keeping his head lowered. Occasionally, he looked up at the speakers.

“Mr. Saipov, I am one of your victims,” said Marion Van Reeth, a Belgian woman who in the attack sustained a spinal cord injury and broken ribs and had to have both legs amputated. “I will never be able to walk like you can. I loved my life. I loved to walk.”

She asked Saipov whether he was still convinced, more than five years later, that his “cruel act” against innocent people was the right thing. Did he feel he was a soldier of the Islamic State group and was he still proud of his act?

“I really hope not,” she added.

Maria Alejandra Sosa, whose husband, Alejandro Pagnucco, was one of five Argentine bicyclists killed, told Saipov he was “worthless” and “pitiful,” adding that she looked forward to the day when Saipov died in jail.

Monica Missio, whose 23-year-old son Nicholas Cleves was killed, said her child would have seen Saipov’s truck speeding toward him and known he was going to die.

“He must have been terrified,” Missio said, adding, “I’m haunted by the horror of it.”

The case was the first federal death penalty trial during the administration of President Joe Biden, who had campaigned against capital punishment. In seeking Saipov’s execution, prosecutors had cited what they described as his premeditative behaviors, such as his planning of the attack, as well as the danger he would pose in prison, his lack of remorse and his professed desire to further the Islamic State group’s ideological goals.

Saipov carried out the attack on a balmy Halloween Day, when the bike path was crowded with tourists and others, mowing them down in a rented 6,000-pound Home Depot truck, crushing some of the victims and sending others flying into the air.

He plowed into one group of 10 Argentine friends who were biking two-by-two, striking and killing “every single rider on the left side of the column,” Alexander Li, another of the prosecutors, said during the trial.

Among the eight fatalities in the attack were the five Argentine bicyclists and a Belgian woman, Ann-Laure Decadt. The other victims were Cleves and Darren Drake, a 32-year-old financial worker from New Jersey.

Rachel Pharn, who sustained a broken foot and ankle and damage to her left shoulder when Saipov’s truck hit her, was the last victim to speak. She addressed Saipov.

“I want to know how you came to be,” Pharn asked him, “how you got to where you are, how I can fix you, so I can figure out how to fix the world.”

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