NEW YORK (AP) — Two Belgium women, one who lost her legs and another whose sister died, were among several witnesses who gave dramatic and sometimes emotional testimony Tuesday at the trial of a man facing terrorism charges for killing eight people and seriously injuring a dozen others in an attack on a New York City bicycle path five years ago.
The witnesses, some in tears, consumed most of the second day that evidence was presented in the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, 34, who could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
On Halloween day in 2017, Saipov drove a rented truck into people riding bikes along the Hudson River on a stretch where pedestrians can snap postcard-perfect pictures of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the World Trade Center.
Marion Van Reeth, of Belgium, told the jury she had no memory of being struck by the truck as it a zig-zagged over the path.
She woke up in a hospital to learn her legs had been amputated and what was left of her right leg was paralyzed.
“It was a terrible shock of course,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was true. … When I heard my boys and husband were fine, I was relieved they were OK.”
Her husband, Aristide Melissas, made several loud screeching sounds and a loud banging noise from the witness stand as he recounted the sound of what he thought was a car accident behind him as he rode his rental bike.
“I never thought it was a terrorist trying to kill us,” he said.
Melissas said he was knocked unconscious and awoke to find people talking to him as he sought information about his family.
“I started shaking tremendously. I had tremendous headaches. … I felt I was fighting for my life,” he said.
At one point, he testified, he was in an ambulance when there “was crying, so much crying.”
And then he dipped his head into his hands and cried, raising his head to wipe tears from his eyes.
He said he eventually underwent brain surgery after suffering a skull fracture.
Earlier in the day, Friedel Decadt, also from Belgium, testified she was bicycling with her mother and two sisters when Saipov’s truck struck a sister.
She said she “screamed very loudly” when she found her sister’s lifeless body.
“She just stared up into the air,” Decadt said.
Her sister, Justine Decadt, testified that it was “supposed to be a fun trip, a girls’ trip,” until it turned deadly.
When a prosecutor asked if she heard anything after the truck had done its damage, she dabbed tears from her eyes and cried quietly before saying: “I heard Friedel scream.”
Carolea Goldfarb, a lawyer, testified she was on her bicycle when she saw Saipov’s truck strike four cyclists “who went up in the air” and came crashing down.
She said the truck came within an inch of striking her. Afterward, she said she approached one of the bicyclists who was struck, an “older gentleman” who asked her to call his wife overseas with his phone.
But as she tried to do so, someone whispered to her: “Don’t make that call. His wife did not survive.”
The testimony from victims occurred a day after Saipov’s lawyer, David Patton, told jurors bluntly that his client is a killer. Patton said Saipov “murdered eight people” because he believed it was his religious obligation and he expected to die in the attack. Instead, a police officer shot him, and he was arrested and held in a federal jail until trial.
Questions put to witnesses by defense lawyers in the first two days of the trial seemed aimed at persuading the jury that giving Saipov the death penalty — if he is convicted — would be granting his wish to die a martyr.
A prosecutor said the government might rest its case next week.