NEW YORK (AP) — About 200 potential jurors for the trial of a man charged with killing eight people on a New York City bike path in a terror attack filled out questionnaires Thursday posing questions about the death penalty in a case in which the U.S. Justice Department still has not indicated if it will seek death if there is a conviction.
The questionnaires handed to people sworn in Thursday in Manhattan federal court will be used to help choose 12 jurors and six alternates for the Oct. 11 trial of Sayfullo Saipov.
Saipov, who has pleaded not guilty, was charged in the Oct. 31, 2017, attack after he emerged from a truck that struck numerous pedestrians with a pellet gun and a paintball gun and shouted an Arabic phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is Great.” He was shot by a police officer and arrested at the scene along the West Side Highway.
Saipov was not in court Thursday as Judge Vernon S. Broderick addressed the potential jurors for about 20 minutes. He described the jury selection process and the charges Saipov faces while emphasizing that the defendant was presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.
Once prospective jurors finished the questionnaires, they were allowed to leave and were told they would be informed at a later point if they should return on Oct. 11, when oral questioning of potential jurors will begin.
Broderick told them that if Saipov was convicted, a separate “punishment phase” of the trial would occur in which the jurors would be asked to decide whether Saipov should spend life in prison or be executed. Unless they unanimously chose death, the sentence would be life in prison, Broderick said.
He said a penalty phase to the trial could extend it until the end of January and jurors should be ready to serve that long.
Before August has ended, about 800 prospective jurors will have answered the 140 written questions, including one that asked if once “a personal and reasoned moral decision about the appropriate sentence” had been reached, “will you be able to stand by your decision even if one or more of your fellow jurors may disagree with your personal decision about the appropriate penalty?”
At a hearing Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle told the judge Manhattan prosecutors are continuing to provide information to Justice Department officials in Washington as the United States decides whether to seek the death penalty if the jury convicts.
She said her office has requested that a final decision be made before the trial starts.
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