NEW YORK (AP) — Deliberations that began Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of killing eight people on a Manhattan bike path quickly hit a snag as jurors sent the judge a note asking if he would face new criminal charges if acquitted .
The question just an hour into jury deliberations was a surprising twist in the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, whose lawyers admit he rented a truck and drove onto the Hudson River Trail on Halloween 2017, killing eight cyclists and injuring about a dozen others people.
The defense argued that jurors should acquit Saipov of some charges, particularly extortion, if they find he did not kill people to join the Islamic State group, a US-designated terrorist group. The memo seemed to indicate that some jurors believed the argument was about all charges.
Defense lawyers, however, had focused the argument on the extortion charges in particular, hoping to win acquittals on some of the 28 charges that could carry the death penalty. If Saipov is convicted of either, the death penalty phase of the trial will begin before the same jury a few days later.
Jurors heard about two weeks of evidence, including testimony from FBI agents and several victims of the attack.
Saipov, who moved to the United States in 2010 from Uzbekistan and lived in Ohio and Florida before joining his family in Paterson, New Jersey, has been in federal prison since the attack.
The attack ended when the truck drove through two utility poles and into a small school bus. Saipov was shot in the lower torso and wounded by a police officer. Prosecutors said he botched his plan to walk onto the Brooklyn Bridge and kill as many people as possible.
After reading the jury’s memo aloud, US District Judge Vernon S. Broderick sent the panel home for the day. He told lawyers they could discuss how to respond Thursday morning.
“This is a complication,” the judge said.
The jury’s memo had three components. In the first, they asked whether defense lawyers were claiming Saipov committed the attacks but was simply accused of the wrong crime.
They then asked a hypothetical, wondering if Saipov would have faced the same charges if he had gone abroad and obtained an ID from the Islamic State group before killing the cyclists.
Finally, they asked: “If we find that he didn’t do it for membership in ISIS, and therefore is not guilty, will he be retried on different charges?”