If the Uzbek immigrant charged with the deadly terrorist pick-up truck attack in New York City escapes the executioner, he may have President Donald Trump to thank for saving his life.
Trump’s repeated calls for Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov to get the death penalty could hobble prosecutors and undermine any attempt to execute him by allowing defense attorneys to argue that the potential jury pools have been tainted and the suspect can’t get a fair trial when the commander-in-chief is calling for his head, former federal prosecutors said Thursday.
“Prosecutors have to be very careful about what they say before a trial because an indictment is just an allegation and not proof of a crime,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told NBC News.
“Here, you have the president of the United States doing that, and the defense can argue that he has already told the juror this man is guilty and he can’t get a fair trial.”
Joy Vance, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, agreed.
“The president has sort of decreed that he should get the death penalty,” Vance said. “Again we are bumping up against the idea that the president doesn’t get involved in individual prosecutions.”
“We are a rule of law country and we operate on the rule of law, not the whims of the president,” Vance added.