NEW YORK — President Donald Trump's tweets were cited Thursday by lawyers for a man charged with fatally mowing down eight people on a New York City bike path as reason to disqualify the death penalty as a trial possibility.
The lawyers wrote in a court submission that Trump's tweeted demands for death and his "politicizing" of the Justice Department should eliminate the option as punishment if Sayfullo Saipov is convicted at a trial scheduled for October 2019.
"A decision not to seek death would expose the decision-maker to a blaze of public scorn and ridicule as well as the possible loss of employment. That taint on the charging process cannot be tolerated," they said.
Prosecutors had said that they would know by September whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had authorized the death penalty if conviction is secured against the 30-year-old Paterson, New Jersey, resident. A prosecutor's spokesman, Nicholas Biase, declined comment.
Saipov was arrested at the scene of the Oct. 31 truck attack near the World Trade Center that left eight people dead and many more injured. He has been incarcerated since.
The suspect is accused using a rented Home Depot truck to hop a curb at West Houston Street, then drive south on the bike path on the west side of West Side Highway in lower Manhattan for several blocks.
In papers in Manhattan federal court, the lawyers said a Monday tweet by Trump shows that he believes Sessions' charging decisions "should be governed by nakedly political considerations."
In the tweet, a reaction to recent federal charges against two Republican congressmen, Trump said: "Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressman were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......"
The lawyers also noted that Trump had repeatedly demanded, including in a tweet sent the day after the attack, that Saipov be killed by the government.
In a Nov. 1 tweet, Trump said: "NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"
The following day, Trump tweeted: "...There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"
The lawyers also said Trump had used a tweet to describe Saipov as a "degenerate animal."
They argued that Trump's tweets had made it impossible for Sessions to "fairly and independently decide whether to seek the death penalty against Mr. Saipov," who has pleaded not guilty.
The lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick to rule out death as an option. Otherwise, they said, he should appoint an independent prosecutor to determine whether death should be sought.
The attorneys said it defies reality to believe Sessions could truly independently decide whether Saipov should face the death penalty, "knowing that a decision not to seek death would inevitably trigger a 'tweetstorm' of ridicule and scorn from the President and might well lead to the loss of his job."