MANHATTAN (CN) – A man who drove a truck into bicyclists and pedestrians on a New York City bike path last month pleaded not guilty Tuesday to terror charges.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, was indicted with 22 counts in connection to his deadly Halloween ride along Manhattan’s West Side Highway.
Before crashing into a school bus, the Uzbek immigrant ran his rented pickup truck into nearly two dozen people, leaving eight dead. Authorities say Saipov emerged from the crash carrying a paintball gun and a pellet gun. An officer who happened to be at the scene took down Saipov with a bullet to the lower hip, for which Saipov was quickly treated in Bellevue Hospital.
Saipov is charged with murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and violence, and destruction of motor vehicles.
Prosecutors have not yet confirmed that they will pursue the capital punishment for the eight death-eligible charges — murder in the aid of racketeering — but defense attorneys prepared for that possibility at a brief arraignment on Tuesday.
Under federal law, all defendants facing the possibility of execution must be provided with learned counsel, an honorific for accomplished attorneys experienced in capital cases.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick asked whether Saipov’s defense attorneys have been preparing for such a requirement.
“Will you be submitting a recommendation to me with regard to learned counsel?” Broderick asked.
“I will, your honor,” replied attorney David Patton, the head of the Federal Defenders of New York.
Patton and his co-counsel Jennifer Brown darted out of New York’s Thurgood Marshall Courthouse after the hearing, without taking questions from reporters.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said earlier this month that Saipov was inspired by the Islamic State group to turn his Load ’N Go flatbed truck rented from Home Depot into a weapon of terror. Saipov even toyed with the idea of flying the ISIS flag on his car, but scrapped the plan to avoid calling attention to himself, prosecutors say.
“Scores of videos and images on [Saipov’s] cellphone showed” the Islamic State group inspired the attack, Kim said.
If prosecutors seek Saipov’s execution, Broderick revealed, it will be the judge’s first death-penalty case.