By Luc Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The mother of a New Yorker killed in 2017 when a man driving a truck mowed down cyclists and pedestrians on a crowded Manhattan bike path told a hushed courtroom on Wednesday that no punishment meted out to the attacker could compare to her pain.
“This evil murderer has destroyed so many lives,” said Monica Missio, the mother of victim Nicholas Cleves, before Sayfullo Saipov was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Saipov was convicted in January on murder and terrorism charges for the attack, which killed eight people and injured 12.
“It disgusts me that he gets to wake up every day while my son does not,” Missio said. “His barbarism and cruelty fills me with rage.”
More than 20 victims and family members spoke before U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick formally sentenced the 35-year-old Saipov to eight consecutive life sentences and an additional 260 years in prison. The life sentence became automatic after a jury deadlocked on whether Saipov should receive the death penalty.
Saipov used a Home Depot rental truck to cut down people on a path along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side. He had hoped the attack would help him gain membership in Islamic State, or ISIS, prosecutors said. The United States designates ISIS as a terrorist organization.
“The conduct in this case is among the worst if not the worst I’ve ever seen, both in terms of the impact it had on the victims and on the sheer unrepentant nature of the defendant,” the judge said before pronouncing Saipov’s sentence.
Rachel Pharn, who survived the attack, said she wanted to know what had motivated Saipov.
“Mr. Saipov, I can forgive you for what you did to me, for breaking my spirit,” Pharn said. “But when I look around the room, when I think of all the pain you caused, that I cannot forgive. That is between you, them and Allah.”
Addressing the court before sentencing, a remorseless Saipov appeared to praise Islamic State and suggested his victims suffered less than Muslims around the world.
“I was here in the court during the three-month trial, and I saw and I heard the victims, families and friends,” he said through an interpreter. “The court would be filled up with the tears and blood of the Muslim population.”
Many of those killed or injured in the attack were foreign nationals visiting New York, the most populous U.S. city, and most of the people who spoke at the hearing had traveled from Argentina and Belgium.
Saipov is expected to be housed at Colorado’s Supermax facility, the most secure U.S. federal prison, where he is due to spend 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a cell with a concrete bed.
Saipov’s case was the first federal death penalty trial since Democratic President Joe Biden took office in 2021. Biden had pledged during his campaign to abolish capital punishment in federal cases.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Will Dunham, Bill Berkrot, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)