Lawyers for terror suspect charged with NYC truck attack invoke Trump in defense

Witnesses on NYC terror attack

Lawyers for a man charged with killing eight people last year when he drove his truck onto a New York City bike path said Tuesday that the death penalty should be ruled out because President Trump was "uninformed and full of rage" when he called for it. 

The lawyers said in papers filed in Manhattan federal court on behalf of Sayfullo Saipov that Mr. Trump irrevocably tainted the legal process when he tweeted in all capital letters a day after the attack that Saipov "SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"

The president tweeted at the time, "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!"

Saipov was arrested immediately after the Oct. 31, 2017, destruction. He's pleaded not guilty. Authorities say he told them after his arrest that he was inspired by Islamic State videos and had used a truck in the attack to inflict maximum damage against civilians.

Lawyers wrote that prosecutors were out of line when they notified the court last month that the Justice Department had authorized them to seek death.

They said Mr. Trump spoiled options for death with his tweets.

"His impetuous decision was uninformed and full of rage; he actually reveled in the prospect of condemning Mr. Saipov to die in the 'home of the horrible crime he committed.' But the Constitution does not tolerate a death-penalty scheme driven by bloodthirst or revenge," the lawyers said.

They said Mr. Trump's words prevented Attorney General Jeff Sessions from acting independently and following due process.

"President Trump's emotionally-charged directives were designed to constrain Sessions's decision-making and discourage him from genuinely considering the pursuit of a sentence less than death," they said.

The 30-year-old Saipov moved to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan. He lived in Ohio and Florida and worked as a commercial truck driver before living more recently with his family in Paterson, New Jersey.

A trial is scheduled for October 2019. A jury, if it finds Saipov guilty, will be asked to decide in a second phase of the trial if he should be executed.