Thursday 22 August 2019

Trump's call for death penalty over New York attack raises trial fears

Weighed in: US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Weighed in: US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Chris Graham

Donald Trump has called for the suspect in the New York terror attack to be put to death, raising fears the intervention could impact the trial.

Federal prosecutors brought terrorism charges on Wednesday against Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant accused in the truck rampage that left eight people dead.

Handcuffed and with his feet shackled, Mr Saipov appeared in court in a wheelchair after being shot by police before his arrest.

The charges against the 29-year-old could bring the death penalty.

Having allegedly been inspired by jihadist propaganda online, Mr Saipov even asked to display the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in his hospital room and said "he felt good about what he had done", prosecutors said in court papers.

"NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang Isil flag in his hospital room," the president tweeted.

"He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"

Earlier, Mr Saipov's appointed lawyer David Patton said he hoped "everyone lets the judicial process play out".

"I promise you that how we treat Mr Saipov in this judicial process will say a lot more about us than it will say about him," Mr Patton said.

It is extremely rare for a sitting president to comment on legal proceedings and legal experts expressed fears that Mr Trump's comments on Twitter could taint the court case.


"Mr President, we all know he should get the death penalty.

"But when *you* say it, it makes it harder for DOJ to make that happen," Andrew C McCarthy, former chief assistant US attorney, wrote on Twitter.

Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer, said: "This is called potentially tainting jury pool and could impact alleged perpetrator's ability to secure fair trial."

Mr Trump had already weighed in on the case earlier in the day, saying he was open to the idea of sending Mr Saipov to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. "I would certainly consider that, send him to Gitmo," Mr Trump said, using the familiar shorthand for the detention centre.

The White House later reinforced that idea by saying it considered Mr Saipov to be an "enemy combatant", a designation that would curtail his legal rights.

Mr Trump called the suspect "this animal" and lambasted the US justice system for terrorism suspects as "a joke" and "a laughing stock."

Mr Trump has been an outspoken advocate for the death penalty in the past.

In 1989, he purchased a full-page advert in the 'New York Daily News' calling for New York to reinstate the death penalty after the rape and brutal assault of a jogger in Central Park.

"I want to hate these muggers and murderers," it read.

"They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes."

© Daily Telegraph London

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