Admitted triple murderer again fights
execution at Boston trial
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[September 14, 2016]
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts man who
admitted stabbing three people to death in a weeklong 2001 rampage in
two states returns to a Boston courtroom on Wednesday fighting for his
life as federal prosecutors mount a second attempt to have him executed.
Gary Lee Sampson, 56, was sentenced to death in 2004 after pleading
guilty to a series of murders that began with the killings of two men
ages 69 and 19 who picked him up while he was hitchhiking in
Massachusetts on separate days and ended when he killed the 58-year-old
caretaker of a vacation home he broke into on Lake Winnipesaukee, New
But the death sentence was overturned in 2011 when it emerged that one
of the jurors lied about her experience as a victim of domestic
violence, setting the stage for Wednesday's trial, which will be
Massachusetts' second death penalty trial in two years.
Sampson's guilt is not at issue, and the trial's sole purpose will be
for a jury to determine whether he will be sentenced to death or to life
While the state's laws do not allow for capital punishment, Sampson
faced federal charges, as did Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,
who was sentenced to death last year.
Some observers criticized the decision to retry Sampson as the numbers
of death sentences handed down and executions carried out are falling
across the United States.
Just 15 people have been executed in the United States so far this year,
according the Death Penalty Information Center, putting the nation on
pace for its lowest number of executions in a quarter century.
"The batting average for getting a death sentence for prosecutors is
remarkably low, suggesting that much of the dollars are not well spent,
from that perspective," said James Acker, a professor of criminal
justice at the State University of New York at Albany and a
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Defense costs alone in a federal capital trial top $620,000 on
average, eight times the cost of a murder trial where the death
penalty is not at issue, according to the center's data.
Prosecutors contend the severity of Sampson's crimes, which
stretched over seven days, justify capital punishment. Sampson's
victims were Philip McCloskey, 69, Jonathan Rizzo, 19, slain in
Massachusetts, and Robert Whitney, 58, killed in New Hampshire.
The trial could take two months or more, with defense attorneys
preparing to address more than 200 mitigating factors including his
history of mental illness, abusive father and deteriorating health.
Sampson's lawyers have argued that his cirrhosis and heart disease
are likely to kill him long before any executioner.
Even if sentenced to death at this trial, Sampson would have a
years-long appeals process ahead of him.
"It is virtually certain that Mr. Sampson will not live long
(enough) to be executed," defense attorneys wrote in a court filing
earlier this year. "He is very far from healthy."
Of the 75 people sentenced to death on federal charges since 1988,
only three have been put to death.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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