NEW YORK – Deliberations that began Wednesday in the trial of a man charged with killing eight people along a Manhattan bike path quickly hit a snag, as jurors sent the judge a note asking if he would face new criminal charges if they acquit him.
The query only an hour into the jury's deliberations was a surprising twist in the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, whose lawyers admit that he rented a truck and drove onto the Hudson River path on Halloween in 2017, killing eight cyclists and injuring about a dozen other people.
The defense argued that jurors should acquit Saipov of certain charges, particularly racketeering counts, if they find that he did not kill people to gain membership to the Islamic State group, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The note seemed to indicate that some jurors believe the argument pertained to all charges.
Defense lawyers, though, had aimed the argument at the racketeering charges in particular, hoping to win acquittals on some of the 28 counts that could result in a death sentence. If Saipov is convicted on any of those, a death penalty phase of the trial would begin before the same jury days later.
Jurors heard about two weeks of evidence including testimony from FBI agents and numerous victims of the attack.
Saipov, who moved to the United States in 2010 from Uzbekistan and lived in Ohio and Florida before joining family in Paterson, New Jersey, has been in a federal jail since the attack.
The attack ended after the truck plowed through two poles and into a small school bus. Saipov was shot in the lower torso and injured by a police officer. Prosecutors said it spoiled his plan to proceed to the Brooklyn Bridge and kill as many people as possible.
After reading the jury note aloud, U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick sent the panel home for the day. He told lawyers they could discuss how to respond on Thursday morning.
“This is a complication,” the judge said.
The jurors' note had three components. In the first, they asked if defense lawyers were contending that Saipov committed the attacks but was simply charged with the wrong crime.
Then they asked a hypothetical, wondering if Saipov would face the same charges if he had gone abroad and gotten an identification card from the Islamic State group before killing the cyclists.
Finally they asked, “If we find he did not do it for ISIS membership, and therefore is not guilty, will he be retried with different charges?”