(NEW YORK) — The surviving victims and families of those killed in a 2017 terror attack in New York City delivered heart-wrenching statements Wednesday ahead of the sentencing of Sayfullo Saipov, the ISIS-inspired attacker who was convicted of killing eight people earlier this year.
Saipov was convicted in January of all 28 counts he faced in connection with carrying out the deadly attack along a Manhattan bike path with a rented Home Depot truck.
The Uzbekistan native was spared the death penalty after jurors deadlocked on sentencing for the nine charges he faced that were eligible for capital punishment and instead agreed to a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release.
Ahead of the judge’s sentencing, survivors of the attack and victims’ families delivered emotional statements to the court as Saipov sat at the defense table in a navy smock, full beard and glasses.
Marion Van Reeth was unconscious for over a week, lost both of her legs and suffered paralysis below her waist after she was struck by Saipov. She introduced herself through tears.
“Mr. Saipov, I am one of your victims,” Van Reeth said.
She spoke from a wheelchair, telling Saipov that she would never be able to walk like he can.
“Are you still convinced that your cruel act against innocent people was the right thing? Do you still see yourself as a soldier for ISIS?” she asked. “I really hope over time you will be able to rethink your beliefs.”
Monica Missio’s son, Nicholas Cleves, was the last of the eight people killed when Saipov sped down a Hudson River bike path in the truck.
“I am a mother subsumed by grief,” Missio told the court. “I’m going to grieve for Nicholas for the rest of my life because my love for him is endless.”
Cleves was the only New Yorker killed in the deadliest terror attack in the city since Sept. 11. His mother said the 23-year-old grew up a few blocks from where he was struck and killed as the truck hurtled through pedestrians and cyclists at 66 mph.
“People witnessed him getting struck and catapulted into the air,” Missio said. “I am haunted by the brutal way Nicholas died.”
She added that she has “nothing but contempt” for Saipov.
Cleves’ aunt, Nicole Missio, called Saipov and his attack evil.
“I don’t care if the monster lives or dies. I never did,” she told the court. “But I’m especially disturbed by the thought that if his relatives knew or could see that he was radicalized then they have blood on their hands, too.”
Hernan Mendoza was one of five friends from Argentina who were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation in New York when they were killed in the attack. His widow, Ana Evans, could not make it to court in person so submitted a statement in writing: “I can only think of Hernan and our children, who can never again exchange glances, gestures, smiles or signs of support with their father. Equally incredible and terrifying is the disaster that a single person can cause.”
The wife of Alejandro Pagnucco, another Argentinian killed in the attack, castigated Saipov for keeping his neck bent and eyes down during victim impact statements.
“Saipov, you cannot even look at us. You cannot raise your face and look,” Pagnucco’s wife, Maria, said, her voice rising in anger. “You’re worthless. You do not even deserve a place in this world. You are worth nothing. You are pitiful. You have humiliated your family. You have humiliated your father and your mother. Your last name brings shame. God is ashamed.”
The father of the attack’s first victim, Ann-Laure Decadt, also questioned Saipov, who did not look up.
“Mr. Saipov, you drove that truck into my beloved daughter and you killed her,” he said. “Why, Mr. Saipov? Why did you do this to her?”
Federal prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum to the judge this week that Saipov deserved multiple life sentences “to provide just punishment” for the Oct. 31, 2017, attack.
“The defendant’s conduct before, during and after his attack warrants a sentence that reflects the extraordinary depravity of his crimes. The government respectfully requests that the court impose the maximum statutory penalty on each count of conviction,” prosecutors said in the sentencing memorandum filed Monday.
The sentencing memorandum included statements Saipov made after the attack.
“Saipov admitted that his goal was to kill as many people as possible, and that he was happy with what he had done. Saipov smiled and asked to hang an ISIS flag in his hospital room. Saipov admitted that he had decided to commit an attack a full year before he executed it, and that he had spent two months planning his truck attack,” prosecutors said.
The jury agreed Saipov intentionally killed his victims after “substantial planning and premeditation” and did it for ISIS. However, the jury did not unanimously find Saipov represented a future danger or would likely commit acts of violence while in prison.
Saipov will spend at least 22 hours a day alone in his cell at ADX in Florence, Colorado, following his sentencing.
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