The Islamic extremist who drove a rented truck into pedestrians and cyclists on a New York City bike path in 2017 was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences on Wednesday after he spoke for nearly an hour to defend his actions.
Sayfullo Saipov was sentenced to life in prison for each of the eight victims as well as a consecutive term of 260 years and two additional concurrent life sentences, federal district Judge Vernon Broderick imposed in court.
Prior to the sentence, Saipov spoke in Uzbek via a translator for nearly an hour about the history of Islam and offered a justification of his crimes, showing no indication of remorse.
“It is very surprising that if one Mujahid kills one unbeliever anywhere that we will be talking about that crime for months and months, but at the same time they do not talk about anything, about any of those innocent Muslims dying in different places by thousands,” he said.
“I was here in the court during the three months trial and I saw and I heard the victims’ families and friends. Tears of those families of the victims, maybe one handkerchief hold their tears,” Saipov said. “The courtroom would be filled up with the tears and blood of the Muslim population.”
After Saipov finished, the sister of victim Ann-Laure Decadt yelled out in the courtroom, “The only act of the devil here is the act you did.”
The judge addressed Saipov before imposing his sentence.
“The conduct in this case is among the worst if not the worst I have ever seen both in terms of the impact of that on the victims and on the sheer unrepentant nature of the defendant,” Broderick said. “You did not and you do not care about their pain and their suffering that is the direct result of your callous and cowardly actions.”
Also in court, a total of 21 survivors and victims’ family members entered victim impact statements about how the attack had changed their lives. Nineteen people spoke in court and two statements were read into the record.
The courtroom events stem from the attack on Halloween in 2017 when Saipov drove a rented U-Haul truck into people on Manhattan’s West Side bike path and then crashed the vehicle into a school bus, authorities said. He left the truck while brandishing a pellet gun and paintball gun, and then was shot by an NYPD officer and taken into custody, officials said.
With eight dead and over a dozen injured, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since September 11, 2001.
The eight killed have been identified as Decadt of Belgium; Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi of Argentina; and Nicholas Cleves and Darren Drake of the US.
This January, the jury convicted Saipov of all 28 counts against him. Those counts included murder in aid of racketeering activity, assault with a dangerous weapon and attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity, attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity, provision of material support to ISIS, and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle.
Saipov effectively learned his sentence in March, when the jury in the penalty phase of his trial in Manhattan federal court told a judge it was unable to reach an unanimous decision favoring the death penalty on any of the nine capital counts against him.
His was the first death penalty case brought under the Biden administration, which has put a moratorium on executions. The administration’s second death penalty case is set to begin soon for the man accused of killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.
21 victim statements nearly 6 years since attack
The victim impact statements on Wednesday were emotional and at turns tear-filled and angry. The majority of the victims and families traveled from Argentina and Belgium, prosecutors said in a memo.
Marion Van Reeth, a Belgian tourist who lost both of her legs in the attack, asked to pass by Saipov in her wheelchair before she spoke.
“Mr. Saipov I am one of your victims. Amputated of both legs, I will never be able to walk like you can,” she said. “I have a question for you. Are you still convinced that your cruel act versus innocent people was the right thing? Do you still feel yourself a soldier of ISIS and proud of your act? I really hope not.”
Saipov wore headphones to hear a translator dictate the statements to him in Uzbek and appeared to keep his head down most of the proceeding. At times he made eye contact with some of the victims.
The widow of Pagnucco, staring at Saipov at the defense table, criticized him for not looking at the victims while they spoke in court.
“You cannot even raise your face and look at us in the eyes. Do you feel proud of what you’ve done?” she said through a Spanish-speaking translator.
Alejandro Pagnucco’s sister Viviana spoke of their family’s suffering and also addressed Saipov, who appeared to briefly look up when she said his name.
“Saipov, I tell you what mildly calms me down is to know that your family and friends despise you, you make them ashamed. And that the god that you killed innocent people on behalf of, that god doesn’t exist because god could never wish for violent deaths,” she said.
“My wish is that you suffer (in) your confinement because you never showed any regret. I wish that you do not want to wake up every morning. And I wish you go crazy out of loneliness. Maybe then I can sleep in peace.”
Van Reeth’s husband, Aristide Melissas, told the court that he’s chosen to forgive Saipov, who injured him, his wife and their son, visiting New York from Belgium at the time. Melissas’ words of love and forgiveness appeared to get Saipov’s attention.
“Mr. Saipov, Sayfullo, may I please invite you to get back to the man you were when you arrived in the United States,” he said.
Melissas said he and his family suffer from the attack daily.
“And for sure you force us all to climb mountains you never could imagine, but we climb and ascend daily,” he said.
He also spoke of Saipov’s family, many of whom testified in the penalty phase of trial.
“As you feel sorry for us, I feel sorry for you all for having also received for life an unwilled rucksack,” he said. “I wish you all the best and truly hope your belief in love, humanity and good values in all the cultures of the world will never stop.”
Victims wore matching T-shirts
Prior to the judge handing down the sentence, prosecutor Amanda Houle showed the court a photo of the surviving victims and family members taken on the bike path where they were injured and where their loved ones were killed.
In the photo, taken earlier this year, they held up photos of their deceased loved ones.
“They are reclaiming that crime scene,” Houle said. “They’re showing that they are stronger together.”
Family members and some victims of the attack themselves sat within the packed courtroom on Wednesday. About a dozen of them wore matching T-shirts stating, “Together Stronger” and “May Love Overcome Hate.” Several of them wiped their eyes, and others were visibly upset as the sentence was handed down.
After Saipov was escorted out of the courtroom, a family member shouted in Spanish asking for a moment of silence, which the judge granted.
Saipov is expected to serve his life sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prisons ADX facility in Florence, Colorado, in solitary confinement at least 22 hours a day, his attorneys said during trial.
The sentence was in line with what federal prosecutors had requested and represented the fullest extent of the sentencing guidelines for his 28-count conviction.
“Because Saipov deliberately committed the most abhorrent crime imaginable for which he has expressed no remorse, he deserves no leniency. Only the maximum punishment on each count of conviction will reflect the unimaginable harm inflicted and send the appropriate message that terrorist attacks on innocent civilians will be punished as harshly as the law allows,” prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing court filing.
The harshest sentence, prosecutors wrote, would be “an exercise of such discretion to hold the defendant fully accountable for his crimes, and to send the appropriate message to the defendant, the public, and any others who might contemplate an attack on U.S. soil.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Kara Scannell contributed to this report.