Closing arguments concluded Tuesday in the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, the man prosecutors say was radicalized by ISIS propaganda before he allegedly drove a rented truck down a bike path in New York, killing eight pedestrians in 2017.
The judge is expected to charge the jury with the case Wednesday morning. He indicated the reading of the jury instructions will take several hours before deliberations begin.
Defense attorney David Patton acknowledged in his closing argument that the defense does not dispute facts of the attack Saipov is accused of committing on Halloween in 2017.
“It is no defense ‘I was convinced by others to do it,’ nobody forced him to do this and he’s guilty of murder and assault among many other crimes,” Patton told the jury.
Six foreign tourists and two Americans were killed in the attack, the deadliest terrorist attack New York had seen since 9/11.
The defense attorney disputed, however, prosecutors’ claim that Saipov was motivated to commit the attack to gain entry to ISIS.
He argued that was not Saipov’s goal, and that the attack was spurred by religious fervor to please his God and “ascend to paradise” in his religion.
Patton also noted ISIS does not call its members “soldiers of the Caliphate” as Saipov has referred to himself, according to trial evidence, but rather identifies its members by another term.
The defense attorney said Saipov’s claim that an ISIS leader told him to commit the attack likely comes from a propaganda video recovered on his phone. Buying into ISIS propaganda does not suggest Saipov had any direct contact or coordination with ISIS members ahead of the attack, Patton said.
The people communicating with Saipov in “The House of the Caliphate” messaging group could have been anywhere, according to the defense attorney, and were not necessarily ISIS members in Syria or other territories occupied by the terrorist organization.
Saipov faces eight capital counts of murder in aid of racketeering activity that could result in the death penalty if he’s convicted. The jury must determine in part whether the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that gaining entrance to ISIS was a substantial motivating factor for Saipov’s attack.
“I just hope you will see why it is so important for you to get that right,” Patton told the jury in closing.
Prosecutors told the jury in the government’s rebuttal Tuesday evening that Saipov must be convicted on all counts as they stand.
“People who ISIS relies upon to conquer territory and kill non-believers, those are its soldiers. Of course they are part of ISIS. That is common sense,” prosecutor Amanda Leigh Houle said. “An organization engaged in a worldwide war needs its soldiers and its soldiers are part of the group.”
The trial is the first federal death penalty case heard under President Joe Biden, who previously pledged to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level.