NYC terror suspect with Ohio ties may plead guilty if spared death penalty

NEW YORK (AP) — A man charged with killing eight people in a Halloween attack on a New York City bike path is willing to plead guilty if he’ll be spared the death penalty, his lawyers said Wednesday.

The lawyers told U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick that the families of victims and the public can be spared a drawn-out legal process if U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decides not to seek the death penalty for Sayfullo Saipov.

Saipov briefly lived in Cuyahoga Falls years before the attack.

Authorities say the Paterson, New Jersey, resident was inspired by the Islamic State group when he mowed people down in rented truck. He has pleaded not guilty and remains held without bail.

“In short, a decision by the government not to seek the death penalty would bring immediate closure to the case without the need for the public and victims to repeatedly relive the terrible events of Oct. 31, 2017,” the lawyer told the Manhattan jurist in a letter signed by David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York.

If the government seeks death, the lawyers said a trial should occur no earlier than September 2019 because of the large volume of evidence and the need to build a defense with information to be gathered halfway around the globe.

Authorities say Islamic State group propaganda was found on cellphones belonging to Saipov, who moved to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan. In addition to Ohio, he also lived in Florida and worked as a commercial truck driver before he recently moved to New Jersey with his wife and children.

In a letter sent to the judge Tuesday, prosecutors said a decision on whether to seek death in the case will not occur until after they receive a submission from the defense revealing any mitigating circumstances. They said they had asked for it to be submitted within three months but defense lawyers have requested an additional three months to work on it.

Prosecutors asked that a trial be set for April 2019. They said a firm trial date is necessary because it would enable planning by many of the victims and families located throughout the United States and overseas, including in Argentina, Belgium and Germany.

The government said there is “a strong desire for closure” among those harmed by the attacks in the U.S. and abroad.

“It is deeply traumatic for these bereaved, seriously injured, or otherwise traumatized victims and their families to endure reliving Saipov’s attack by recounting the details, and victims have already expressed to the government concern about delays in this process,” prosecutors wrote.