The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New York bike path killer to serve life sentence for 2017 attack

The truck at the scene of the killings in 2017. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
3 min

NEW YORK — The man convicted of killing eight people by driving a truck on a New York bike path in 2017 will serve life in prison without a chance for parole as punishment, after a federal jury could not reach a unanimous decision on whether to sentence him to death.

The jury in the death penalty phase of the federal case against Sayfullo Saipov, who was convicted of the killings in January, had heard emotional testimony from relatives of victims and survivors at U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The 12-member jury indicated Monday afternoon that it could not come to a unanimous decision, meaning a death penalty finding was not possible because a unanimous finding on at least one death-penalty-eligible count was required. That made a life sentence the default alternative.

Judge Vernon S. Broderick did not immediately set a sentencing date.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that Saipov, 35, was motivated by devotion to the Islamic State when he purposely drove a 6,000-pound vehicle onto the path and “proudly maintained” that conviction afterward, including during his trial.

Jurors weighed the federal government’s case in favor of death for Saipov, which included prosecutors saying he hoped to become part of the Islamic State militant group, planned the attack and showed no remorse after the killings on Oct. 31, 2017.

Defense lawyers said a life sentence in federal prison for Saipov was appropriate and sufficient to protect society.

“It is not necessary to kill [Saipov]. Not for our safety or anyone else’s and not to do justice,” his attorney David Patton said in closing statements last week. “We’re asking you to decide that meeting death with more death is not the answer.”

Saipov was convicted of 28 counts, including murder. He rented the truck in New Jersey and used it for the attack that killed eight and injured more than two dozen on a scenic Lower Manhattan bike path along the Hudson River.

The case marked the first federal conviction under the Biden administration that could have resulted in an execution. Officials said it was the worst terrorist act in New York since Sept. 11, 2001.

Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department withdrew more than two dozen death penalty bids in accordance with a policy the president adopted. In seven pending cases, including Saipov’s, the government honored death penalty notices that were filed before Biden took office.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle in her closing statement detailed the “unbearable pain” of families victimized in the attack.

“There can be no justice in this case without a close, hard look at the anguish that the defendant chose for these families,” Houle said.

During family testimony in the courtroom, the mother of victim Darren Drake, 32, who lived in his hometown and worked downtown as a project manager at Moody’s Analytics, described a frantic search at city hospitals for her son as calls to his cellphone went unanswered for hours and her family’s concern grew.

Drake’s parents tried to find him, but they did not learn until the day after the attack that he’d been brought to the morgue, which is adjacent to the city hospital where Barbara and Jimmy Drake spent hours agonizing.

After a sleepless night, the couple got a call from the FBI asking them to return to Bellevue Hospital. From there they were led to the medical examiner’s office, where they were asked to identify Drake.

Barbara Drake testified that the overnight wait for news at their New Milford, N.J., home was “the worst night of our whole [lives].”