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Uzbek Man Offers Guilty Plea In Truck Attack If Spared Death Penalty

Sayfullo Saipov in a courtroom sketch
Sayfullo Saipov in a courtroom sketch

An Uzbek man charged with killing eight people by ramming a truck down a New York City bike path is willing to plead guilty and accept a life sentence in prison if prosecutors do not seek the death penalty, his lawyers said.

The lawyers for Sayfullo Saipov, 29, made their offer in a court filing on January 17 as prosecutors asked a U.S. District Court in Manhattan to set an April 2019 date for Saipov's trial on murder and terrorism charges.

The prosecutors said injured victims and relatives of those killed in the October 31, 2017, attack -- the deadliest in New York City since the September 2001 attacks -- have a "strong desire for closure."

Saipov's lawyers said the fastest way to resolve the case would be for prosecutors to accept their proposed deal.

"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 event," the lawyers wrote.

The office of interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the case, is expected to make a recommendation on whether to seek the death penalty, though the final decision will be made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Both Berman and Sessions were appointed by President Donald Trump, who on Twitter said Saipov should face the death penalty.

If the government seeks to impose the death penalty on Saipov, his lawyers said a trial should occur no earlier than September 2019 because of the need to build a defense with information that must be gathered halfway around the globe.

Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who became a legal permanent resident of the United States, was arrested immediately after the attack.

Police said he deliberately plowed a rented truck into bikers and joggers on a bike path only blocks from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

Saipov, in his first statements to police, professed his allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group, which later claimed him as a "soldier of the Caliphate."

Prosecutors said his cell phone contained IS propaganda and videos of beheadings and other gruesome acts the radical Sunni Muslim group committed in Syria and Iraq after seizing territory in those countries in 2014.

Saipov, who worked as a commercial truck driver and Uber driver in the United States before the attack, told investigators he was inspired by the IS videos.

Saipov's family told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that he did not have radical views before he moved to the United States in 2010 and appeared to have been radicalized through online sources.

Saipov was charged in November with eight counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder, one count of providing material support to Islamic State, and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle resulting in death.

He pleaded not guilty on November 28 but is now offering to reverse that plea.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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