Trump’s tweets un­likely to slow at­tack case

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Colleen Long and Lar­ryNeumeis­ter

NEWYORK » Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tweets call­ing for the death penalty for the man charged in the New York truck ram­page could give de­fense at­tor­neys grounds to ar­gue that Trump has poi­soned the minds of po­ten­tial ju­rors. But some le­gal ex­perts doubt that ar­gu­ment will slow the case.

In a highly un­usual in­stance of a pres­i­dent weigh­ing in on the fate of a de­fen­dant await­ing trial, Trump said on Twit­ter that 29-year- old Say­fullo Saipov “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” in the at­tack that left eight peo­ple dead. In an­other tweet, Trump said pros­e­cu­tors “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

Some le­gal ex­perts Thurs­day said judges in Man­hat­tan’s fed­eral courts will not let the pres­i­dent’s re­marks slow the case or throw it off track, es­pe­cially in a court­house with a quar­ter- cen­tury record of swift ter­ror­ism pros­e­cu­tions with mostly air­tight out­comes.

“Noth­ing slows down the train,” said James Co­hen, a pro­fes­sor at Ford­ham Law School. He said the yetto-be-as­signed judge will ques­tion prospec­tive ju­rors to en­sure they can be fair de­spite any­thing they might have heard or read.

Lawyers dif­fered over whether Trump was out of bounds.

“Even pres­i­dents are en­ti­tled to First Amend­ment rights,” said Michael Wildes, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor.

Joshua Dra­tel, a vet­eran de­fense at­tor­ney in ter­ror­ism cases, would not pre­dict what a judge might do, but he said the tweets should dis­qual­ify pros­e­cu­tors from­seek­ing the death penalty.

“It’s in­con­ceiv­able that it would be fair to seek the death penalty when the pres­i­dent has ex­pressed it twice in a tweet,” he said. “It poi­sons the ju­rors, all the prospec­tive ju­rors.”

In bring­ing ter­ror­ism charges against Saipov, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors Wed­nes­day said the Uzbek im­mi­grant used a rental truck to mow down peo­ple along a bike path af­ter be­ing in­spired by Is­lamic State pro­pa­ganda videos.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tin­ued por­ing over Saipov’s phone records and on­line con­tacts and comb­ing sur­veil­lance footage to re­con­struct his move­ments in the weeks be­fore the ram­page.

They­were also in­ter­view­ing ac­quain­tances and fam­ily, in­clud­ing his wife, who ac­cord­ing to a law en­force­ment of­fi­cial was co­op­er­a­tive and claimed she did not know about the at­tack be­fore­hand. The of­fi­cial who was not au­tho­rized to dis- cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

At one point, the FBI put out a bulletin seek­ing any in­for­ma­tion on a fel­low Uzbek im­mi­grant, Mukham­mad­zoir Kadirov, but quickly can­celed it af­ter lo­cat­ing him.

The law en­force­ment of­fi­cial said Kadirov was a friend of Saipov’s and may not have a role inthe case at all, but au­thor­i­ties got sus­pi­cious be­cause he “went off the radar” when they went to speak with him. He was ques­tioned and re­leased.

JohnMiller, the NewYork Po­lice Depart­ment’s deputy com­mis­sioner for coun­tert­er­ror­ism and in­tel­li­gence, told CBS that au­thor­i­ties so far be­lieve Saipov acted alone.

Also Thurs­day, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions told mem­bers of law en­force­ment in New York in a visit sched­uled be­fore the at­tack that the U.S. jus­tice sys­tem can han­dle sus­pects like Saipov.

He noted over 500 de­fen­dants have been con­victed of ter­ror­ism-re­lated crimes since the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks.

Saipov is be­ing held­with­out bail at a Man­hat­tan fed­eral lockup next to the court­house. His at­tor­ney, David Pat­ton, has said he hopes “ev­ery­one lets the ju­di­cial process play out.” He did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day.

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