NEW YORK (AP) — An unrepentant and defiant Islamic extremist received 10 life sentences and another 260 years in prison on Wednesday for killing eight people with a truck on a bike path in Manhattan on Halloween in 2017, as a judge decried his “callous and cowardly” crimes.
“The conduct in this case is among the worst, if not the worst I’ve ever seen,” said U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick, as he announced a sentence designed to underscore the severity of the terrorist attack Sayfullo Saipov claimed he carried out on behalf of the Islamic State group.
A life sentence was mandatory after a jury rejected the death penalty in March, but prosecutors had asked Broderick to impose eight consecutive life sentences and two concurrent life sentences. They also wanted an extra 260 years to send a stern message to other like-minded terrorists. And that's what the judge did.
Broderick cited the defiance of Saipov, who, given a chance to speak, said the tears of victims and family members in the courtroom during the six months of the trial would fill a single tissue. But, Saipov said, the tears and blood of followers of Islam killed unjustly worldwide would fill the courtroom.
In a rambling rant delivered through a translator, Saipov spent most of an hour talking about the creation of religions and how the devil was instrumental in the evolution of the human population.
When he finished, a female victim's relative briefly stood, shouting: “The only act of the devil here is the act you did!”
“You did not and you do not care about their pain and their suffering,” the judge said to Saipov about the victims. He noted that even Saipov's relatives, including his father, were ashamed and “traumatized and forever changed.”
Saipov, 35, an Uzbekistan citizen and onetime New Jersey resident, was expected to serve his sentence at the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, for his Oct. 31, 2017, slaughter of tourists and a New Yorker.
His head was drooped and eyes were lowered as 19 victims and relatives of the people killed in the terror attack spoke sometimes through tears, describing lingering pain and occasionally directly addressing him.
Frank Decadt, father of victim Ann-Laure Decadt, told Saipov that he hoped that “one day you will understand the extent of horror you have inflicted on so many people.”
“Only a monster can do what you did,” said Vanesa Erlij Wittenberg, calling her deceased brother an “amazing person.”
“You, on the contrary, are a shame to your family and especially your kids," she said.
Marion Van Reeth, who lost her legs in the attack, sat before Saipov in her wheelchair, telling him: “I will never be able to walk like you can.”
As Saipov listened to a translation of the proceedings through earphones, she said: “I have a question for you. After all this time in prison, are you still convinced that your criminal acts against innocent people was the right thing?”
Like others, she wished that someday Saipov would realize he was wrong.
Gabriela Pabla Pereya, the wife of Ariel Erlij, who was among five men from Argentina killed during a bike ride as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, delivered the shortest statement. She called Saipov a coward and said if he truly wanted God “to accept and love you, go kill yourself.”
Monica Missio, whose only child, Nicholas Cleves was killed, told Saipov his death “has completely destroyed my life.”
His conviction “brought a small sense of justice, but for me there is no sense of closure,” she said.
“He gets to wake up every day while my son does not,” Missio said.
After they spoke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle called the attack “pure evil” and showed a recent photograph of the victims after they returned to the bike path with photographs of the dead.
“They are reclaiming that crime scene. They are shouting that they are stronger together,” she said. “Their capacity for love and compassion is remarkable.”
After the sentencing, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department will "continue to vigorously defend the American people from threats of terrorism and will work tirelessly to bring those who perpetrate terrorist attacks to justice.”
Saipov was shot by a police officer and immediately taken into custody after emerging from his truck shouting “God is great” in Arabic and waving paintball and pellet guns in the air.
Prosecutors said he smiled while asking FBI agents questioning him in a hospital room after the attack if they could hang an Islamic State group flag on the walls.
At trial, his family urged a life sentence, saying they hoped he'd someday realize what he'd done and express remorse. They said he was normal before he grew obsessed with online terrorism propaganda.
A former long-haul truck driver, Saipov moved legally to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010 and lived in Ohio and Florida before joining his family in Paterson, New Jersey.
Among those who attended the sentencing was the trial's jury foreperson, John Francis Patrick III. He said jurors initially favored the death penalty but “we felt another death will not help this matter at all. Better that this defendant know the pain of what living is.”
He said emotional testimony in the trial and the gruesome crime made it hard to be a juror, but he also cited an act of love when Van Reeth awoke in the hospital 10 days after she was struck to learn both her legs were missing.
“And the first thing she said was: ‘Is my husband ok?’”
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press