Attorney General Merrick Garland is bucking President Joe Biden by seeking the death penalty for an alleged Islamist terrorist accused of killing eight and injuring more than a dozen in a 2017 New York City truck attack.
Biden vowed to end federal executions, but his top lawman is pursuing the ultimate penalty in the case of a Uzbekistan national who allegedly ran over cyclists and pedestrians on a bike path near Manhattan’s West Side Highway on Halloween five years ago. The federal trial begins Monday.
“Clearly, he is following laws Congress passed by recognizing at least that the death penalty should be sought in some cases, regardless of President Biden’s contrary views,” Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush, told The New York Times. “I think this is a principled decision and very much the right thing to do.”
Federal prosecutors say the defendant, who allegedly steered a rented truck onto the crowded bike path before crashing into a school bus, all while yelling “Allahu Akbar,” planned the attack and has shown no remorse since being arrested. They claim he was radicalized by watching ISIS videos.
The dead included six tourists, a computer scientist from New York, and a Wall Street worker from New Jersey.
The Daily Wire is not naming the suspect, in keeping with a policy aimed at depriving mass killers of the notoriety they crave.
The alleged killer will be the first federal defendant to face the death penalty under the Biden administration. If he is convicted, it will be up to the jury to decide whether to give him life in prison or execution. The jury must be unanimous in order for the death penalty to be imposed.
Months after the attack, the suspect’s lawyers offered his guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, but the Trump administration refused. Under Trump, the Justice Department reinstituted the death penalty in 2019, 16 years after the last federal convict had been executed. The penalty was still on the books but had not been used due to litigation over drugs used for lethal injections. Then-Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to begin using pentobarbital, and 13 federal convicts were executed before Trump left office.
Garland has not sought the death penalty in any new cases, declared a moratorium on federal executions, and withdrew plans by prior administrations to seek the death penalty in 25 cases. The Garland Justice Department has defended against appeals of death sentences imposed under the Obama administration against the Boston Marathon bomber and the white supremacist convicted of killing nine in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.
“It’s very hard to make sense of the way the Biden administration is thinking about and proceeding with the federal death penalty,” Austin Sarat, a professor of law and political science at Amherst College, told The New York Times.
Garland, then a DOJ prosecutor, sought the death penalty for the terrorist behind the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168. He said in 2021 that he stood by the decision in the case of that terrorist, who was executed in 2001, but subsequently developed concerns about the death penalty based on racial aspects and cases in which DNA has exonerated convicts.
Garland imposed a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021, citing his own concerns about Biden’s authority to halt them.