MANHATTAN (CN) – Attorneys for the man accused of mowing down New Yorkers in a 2017 truck attack said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s repeated calls to have their client executed taint his chances of a fair trial.
“This case appears to be the first time in the history of the federal death penalty where the President of the United States clamored for a death sentence immediately after the defendant’s arrest and/or advocated for politically based charging decisions,” defense attorney David Patton wrote in a 10-page brief for Sayfullo Saipov.
The day after Saipov’s Oct. 31 arrest, Trump tweeted: “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!”
Trump had touted filling up Guantanamo Bay with terror suspects on the campaign trial, but he changed his mind about the New York venue when prosecutors there brought charges.
“There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 2. “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
Patton, the head of the Federal Defenders of New York, noted that this is not the only time that Trump has tried to dictate Department of Justice decisions, recently with a threat to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“We bring this motion today because President Donald J. Trump, in a tweet, dated September 3, 2018, insisted that Attorney General Sessions’ charging decisions should be governed by nakedly political considerations,” he wrote.
Trump has fumed about Sessions recusing himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Earlier this month, Trump slammed Sessions for corruption prosecutions that the president found politically inconvenient.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time.”
Under the circumstances, Patton said, it would be impossible for the Department of Justice to make an independent decision on Saipov’s fate.
“The combination of President Trump’s demand that the government kill Mr. Saipov, his more recent tweets advocating that political calculations should inform Justice Department charging decisions, and his personal attorney’s confirmation that Attorney General Sessions might be fired for not doing as the president wishes, make it impossible for Attorney General Sessions to fulfill his statutory duty to fairly and independently decide whether to seek the death penalty against Mr. Saipov,” the brief states.
The Department of Justice’s Capital Review Center has been considering whether to seek execution for Saipov’s murder charges since July 23.
At a June hearing, federal prosecutors said that they expected a decision to come down from Washington this month. Saipov boasted openly at that hearing about his motivations for mowing down civilians in a rented Load ‘N Go flatback truck last Halloween.
“The Islamic State, in order to impose Sharia on Earth, is leading a war,” Saipov declared in a courtroom rant.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.