Defense cites Trump's death penalty tweets in New York terror attack trial

Sayfullo Saipov’s attorney claims Jeff Sessions cannot ‘fairly and independently’ decide whether to seek capital punishment

Donald Trump’s tweet last year that the man accused of the bicycle path terrorist attack in New York “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY” means that attorney general Jeff Sessions can’t make a fair decision on whether to seek his execution, the suspect argued in court papers on Thursday.

Sayfullo Saipov is charged with killing eight people with a rented pickup truck on 31 October 2017. The department of justice, headed by Sessions, is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to seek capital punishment for Saipov, the New York Daily News reported.

Sayfullo Saipov is accused of killing eight people in the terrorist attack in New York on 31 October 2017.
Sayfullo Saipov is accused of killing eight people in the terrorist attack in New York on 31 October 2017. Photograph: Handout/AFP/Getty Images

In new papers filed in Manhattan supreme court on Thursday, Saipov’s attorney, Jennifer Brown, wrote that Sessions cannot “fairly and independently decide whether to seek the death penalty”.

She added: “President Trump’s tweets mock Congress’s command that a death sentence should be sought only if the Attorney General believes that ‘the circumstances of the case’ warrant capital punishment.”

Shortly after the horrific incident, Trump signalled a desire for the ultimate in retribution against Saipov, who was apprehended by a police officer – who shot him in the abdomen as he brandished weapons and yelled in the street – and taken into custody.

NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017

The president then tweeted: “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

Saipov’s legal team also cites Trump’s tweet earlier this week criticizing Sessions for indictments of two Republican congressmen, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter.

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff,” Trump tweeted.

Trump was slammed at the time for crossing a line in suggesting the justice department should be acting in his political interests.

Saipov’s legal team on Thursday said the utterance taints any decision Sessions will make in the Saipov case with the appearance of political influence.

Guardian staff and agencies

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