NEW YORK (AP) — A Belgian man whose wife lost her legs in a deadly terrorist attack on a New York City bike path said he contemplated suicide after he had largely recovered from his physical wounds. He testified Tuesday as a jury considers the death penalty for the militant Islamic attacker.
Aristide Melissas testified in a federal court in Manhattan to aid the government’s push for a death sentence for Sayfullo Saipov. If all 12 jurors do not agree to end his life, the 35-year-old will automatically spend life in prison.
Melissas said he was undergoing 22 months of rehabilitation from physical wounds that included a fractured skull when he hit an 18-month stretch of mental lows “where I thought of ending my life.”
“Then I said: ‘Don’t do it. You have family. You’re strong. Seek help,’” he said.
Saipov was convicted in late January of charges in the Oct. 31, 2017, attack. He drove a rental truck on a lower Manhattan bike path along the Hudson River at high speed, boasting hours afterward to FBI agents that he had hoped to kill more people. Prosecutors say he had become immersed online in Islamic State group propaganda.
As part of a weeklong presentation of evidence meant to persuade jurors to elect the death penalty, prosecutors have called survivors like Melissas to describe their continuing pain.
They also have argued that Saipov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, remains dangerous and committed to terrorism, even while incarcerated.
Two women who worked at federal jails where Saipov has been held since his arrest say he scared them with his antics after he got angry.
One said he was so angry about his encounter with a guard the night before that he said he wouldn’t remove a covering he had placed over the cell’s video camera until the guard’s head was cut off.
Another jail employee who works as a guard testified that Saipov once became so angry that he kicked his cell door repeatedly and struck a window so hard that it cracked as he threatened to cut her head off.
Melissas, who testified earlier in the trial as did his wife, returned to the witness stand as prosecutors tried to demonstrate the continuing pain felt by a dozen and a half individuals seriously injured in the attack.
Melissas said he was riding bikes with his wife, his youngest son and a nephew when he heard loud screeching and crashing noises behind him before he was knocked out, only to regain consciousness in a pool of his own blood as a stranger’s voice told him an ambulance would arrive soon.
The one-time chief executive of his family’s business said he can no longer work a full day. And each night, he misses cuddling up to his wife’s feet so much that he seeks comfort by holding the socks she wore the night before she lost her legs.
“It doesn’t change anything,” he said, alluding to what was lost. “I still love her so much.”