A federal judge ruled Friday that prosecutors can seek the death penalty against a New York City terror suspect, despite a defense motion that cited tweets by President Trump advocating capital punishment in the case.
Sayfullo Saipov is the suspect in New York's deadliest terror incident since 9/11. Police said he drove a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center on Halloween 2017, leaving eight people dead and injuring many others.
"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!" Trump said on Twitter not long after the incident.
The defense motion argued Trump was trying the case in the court of public opinion, and so the Department of Justice would be unable to make an impartial decision on whether to seek the death penalty should Saipov be found guilty.
The motion said former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was compromised by his boss's demands. Sessions resigned in November.
Southern District of New York Judge Vernon Broderick denied the defense motion, calling it "pure speculation" in his published written opinion. He said there's no evidence the tweets had any influence on the prosecution.
Saipov was indicted on 28 counts, including eight counts of murder, 18 counts of attempted murder and other terror-related charges in the October 31 rampage.
Saipov told investigators he was motivated to use the truck by watching ISIS videos. After his truck hit a school bus, stopping it in its tracks, he exited the vehicle and a New York police officer shot him.
Saipov's attorney, David Patton, declined to comment to CNN on the judge's opinion. The US Attorney's Office also declined to comment.
There are still outstanding defense motions to take the death penalty off the table on different grounds. Judge Broderick will rule on these motions in March, according to court documents.