NEW YORK (AP) — An unrepentant and defiant Islamic extremist received 10 life sentences and another 260 years in prison on Wednesday for killing eight people with a truck on a bike path in Manhattan on Halloween in 2017, as a judge decried his “callous and cowardly” crimes.
“The conduct in this case is among the worst, if not the worst I’ve ever seen,” said U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick, as he announced a sentence designed to underscore the severity of the terrorist attack Sayfullo Saipov claimed he carried out on behalf of the Islamic State group.
A life sentence was mandatory after a jury rejected the death penalty in March, but prosecutors had asked Broderick to impose eight consecutive life sentences and two concurrent life sentences. They also wanted an extra 260 years to send a stern message to other like-minded terrorists. And that’s what the judge did.
Broderick cited the defiance of Saipov, who, given a chance to speak, said the tears of victims and family members in the courtroom over a six-month period would fill a single tissue while the tears and blood of the Islamic population worldwide would fill the courtroom.
In a rambling rant delivered through a translator, Saipov spent most of an hour talking about the creation of religions and how the devil was instrumental in the creation of the human population.
When he finished, a relative of one of his victims stood up and shouted: “The only act of the devil here is the act you did!” Then she immediately sat down and Broderick announced the sentence.
“You did not and you do not care about their pain and their suffering,” the judge said of Saipov’s victims. He labeled Saipov’s attack as “callous and cowardly actions” and noted that even Saipov’s relatives, including his father, were ashamed of his crimes and “traumatized and forever changed.”
Saipov, 35, an Uzbekistan citizen and onetime New Jersey resident, was expected to serve his sentence at the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, for his Oct. 31, 2017 slaughter of tourists and New Yorkers.
Relatives of eight people killed in the terror attack spoke sometimes through tears during the sentencing, describing their lingering pain and sometimes directly addressing the man convicted in the deaths.
Frank Decadt, father of victim Ann-Laure Decadt, told Saipov that he hoped that “one day you will understand the extent of horror you have inflicted on so many people.”
Marion Van Reeth, who lost her legs in the attack, sat before Saipov in her wheelchair, telling him: “I will never be able to walk like you can.”
As Saipov kept his head drooped and eyes lowered, listening to a translation of the proceedings through earphones, she said: “I have a question for you. After all this time in prison, are you still convinced that your criminal acts against innocent people was the right thing?”
Like others, she expressed hope that someday Saipov would see that his terrorist act was wrong.
Gabriela Pabla Pereya, the wife of Ariel Erlij, who was among five men from Argentina killed during a bike ride as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, delivered the shortest statement during the sentencing hearing. She called Saipov a coward and said if he truly wanted God “to accept and love you, go kill yourself.”
Monica Missio, whose son, Nicholas Cleves was killed, told Saipov his death “has completely destroyed my life.”
Five tourists from Argentina, two Americans and a Belgian woman were killed, and 18 others were seriously injured.
Saipov was shot by a police officer and immediately taken into custody after emerging from his truck shouting “God is great” in Arabic and waving paintball and pellet guns in the air.
Prosecutors said he smiled as he asked FBI agents who questioned him in a hospital room after the attack if they could hang an Islamic State group flag on the walls.
At his trial, his family members urged a life sentence, saying they hoped he would realize what he had done and express remorse. They said they wanted him to return to the passive person they remembered him as before he grew obsessed with online propaganda posted by the Islamic State militant group.
A former long-haul truck driver, Saipov moved legally to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010 and lived in Ohio and Florida before joining his family in Paterson, New Jersey.
Among those who attended the sentencing Wednesday was the trial’s jury foreman, John Francis Patrick III. He told reporters that one thing jurors looked at during deliberations was evidence that showed that Saipov wore a seatbelt during his attack even though he claimed he expected to be a martyr. Saipov, he noted, remained in his seat when he slammed into a school bus after his murderous run.
“He didn’t hit the windshield,” Patrick said. “And I thought to myself, real martyrs don’t wear seatbelts.”