Federal judge shuts press out of courtroom at Sayfullo Saipov death penalty trial
NEW YORK — The judge presiding over Sayfullo Saipov’s death penalty trial shut reporters out of the courtroom on Tuesday.
Federal Judge Vernon Broderick said the media had to watch the high-stakes trial in overflow rooms due to the high number of witnesses planning to attend the proceedings.
The Daily News is working with other media outlets to challenge the ruling.
Saipov, 35, was convicted in January of fatally running down eight people on the west side bike path on Oct. 31, 2017, and injuring more than a dozen in an Islamic State-inspired truck attack. He used a rented U-Haul van as his weapon.
The same jury that convicted the Uzbekistan native is now hearing evidence about whether he should be put to death. Government prosecutors have re-called as witnesses several family members of the dead, who testified about their grief. Saipov’s lawyers are expected to call his relatives and experts on propaganda by the Islamic State terror group.
Saipov’s defense has said he grew up in a tightknit family that does not share his extremist views.
During the death penalty phase’s opening argument, David Stern told jurors that they would hear from experts about how Islamic State considers Uzbek migrants like him easy targets for propaganda as the study and practice of Islam were suppressed in the satellite Soviet state when he was growing up.
They had argued that Saipov’s descent into radicalization happened when he moved to the U.S. after winning the visa lottery and started working as a long-haul truck driver.
During “long hours of isolation away from his family,” Saipov “tried desperately to get his family on the phone (to) talk to him as long as they could, but they couldn’t fill the long hours,” Stern said, so he passed the time online consuming conspiracy theories.
Saipov’s lawyers also plan to argue that he has three young children, ages 5, 7 and 9, who still love him, giving meaning to his life.
The feds say Saipov hasn’t shown remorse or abandoned his extremist beliefs and thus continues to pose a threat of danger behind bars. They said he threatened to slit guards’ throats while in lockup.
If one juror declines to send Saipov to the execution chamber, he will be sentenced to life at ADX Florence in Colorado, a “supermax” prison known for housing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera and other inmates deemed highly dangerous.
If convicted, Saipov will be the first federal defendant in Manhattan sentenced to death since 1954. Jury selection in the case took several months.