Karen Greenberg was quoted in a Business Insider article about President Trump’s Twitter remarks calling for the death penalty for terror suspect Saypullo Saipov who plowed into pedestrians in a rented pickup truck, killing eight people and injuring eleven.
Those comments will likely “throw a wrench in the works,” causing challenges for both Saipov’s defense team and the attorneys prosecuting him, said Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University’s law school.
“This prosecution is going to go forward because it has to, for the better interests of justice, but I do think that the potential for the way it can derail is noteworthy and very unfortunate,” Greenberg told Business Insider.
Though it’s unclear whether Saipov’s case will go to trial — it’s possible he will plead guilty — the prospect for the jury pool to be tainted has raised concern.
Greenberg said that though judges are typically “very forceful” in managing jury selection under difficult circumstances, Trump’s comments will likely prompt challenges from Saipov’s defense team, who will surely question whether prospective jurors have seen the tweets and what will happen if they have.
Beyond a potentially compromised jury pool, Greenberg said it’s not a given that prosecutors would even seek the death penalty — and Trump’s comments add pressure to that decision.
Terrorism cases that involve the death penalty are rare, especially in New York. Even prosecutions of the 1998 US Embassy bombings, which left hundreds dead, did not lead to death penalty sentencing. The last convicted terrorist to be dealt a death sentence in the United States was Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the Boston marathon bomber, in 2015.
“While it’s not impossible that it would happen [in Saipov’s case], it was something to be decided. And now there’s not just pressure, perhaps, from the executive to do this, but a sense of interference with the court process,” Greenberg said. “So they’re now on the defensive and the offensive with this one.”