January 14, 2019 / 8:05 PM / 5 months ago

Judge says accused NYC bike path attacker still a threat, eases conditions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday said Sayfullo Saipov, who could face the death penalty if convicted of killing eight people on a New York City bike path, should remain subject to special detention measures to protect against terrorism, but eased restrictions on communications involving his legal team.

Saipov, a 30-year-old Uzbek national, has been housed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan since his Oct. 31, 2017 arrest, which police said came after he ran over his victims by driving a truck down the lower Manhattan bike path.

Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest assault in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001. Saipov’s trial is scheduled for Oct. 7.

The defendant had been challenging special administrative measures, or SAMs, imposed in April that restricted his communications with people outside his family, and restricted his lawyers from sharing his communications with third parties.

In a 27-page decision, U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan rejected Saipov’s claim that special measures were not needed because he had been “incident-free” while in custody.

He also said the defendant has continued to pledge allegiance to Islamic State, including at a June 22 hearing in his courtroom.

“The violent nature of Defendant Saipov’s alleged crimes, his lack of remorse, his ongoing desire to promote ISIS, ISIS’s practice of using propaganda relating to past attacks to encourage its members to participate in acts of violence, and his connections to other known extremists - establish that the SAMs are reasonably necessary to protect against further acts of terrorism,” the judge wrote.

Broderick, however, found it “unduly burdensome” to give only a small number of lawyers access to mail and communications relevant to Saipov’s defense.

He said the “appropriate balance” was to give “precleared” paralegals and investigators limited access, to ensure Saipov’s constitutional right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Lawyer for Saipov did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

Saipov has pleaded not guilty to charges including eight counts of murder, 18 counts of attempted murder, and providing material support to Islamic State.

The defendant was charged under federal law. New York state does not have a death penalty.

The case is U.S. v. Saipov, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-cr-00722.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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