Nearly seven years after a federal jury recommended Gary Lee Sampson be sentenced to death for carjacking and killing two motorists during a weeklong 2001 murder spree, lawyers for the Abington man plan to argue in court Monday that he should receive a new trial.
The legal team for Sampson, who would be the first person executed for a crime in Massacusetts since 1947, contend in a 155-page motion that his constitutional rights were violated because his trial lawyers were ineffective.
His new lawyers say the defense attorneys failed to give the jury a full picture of Sampson's history of mental illness and traumatic brain injuries dating to childhood and that the evidence would likely have discouraged jurors from recommending the death penalty in December 2003. Sampson had pleaded guilty to the murders, leaving the jury only to decide whether he should be executed.
``Trial counsel ... never adequately investigated available witnesses and documents that establish brain damage and mental disease far greater than that presented at trial, and childhood trauma and brutal conditions of confinement starting in his teenage years that coalesced to exacerbate this brain damage and its accompanying psychiatric impairments,'' said the brief filed by Sampson's legal team.
The team that will appear before US Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf includes attorneys from Williams & Connolly LLP, the high-powered Washington firm that successfully defended President Clinton at his impeachment trial and represented Vice President Cheney in the Valerie Plame investigation.
But US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz's prosecutors plan to vigorously oppose Sampson's motion. In a 267-page filing, they argue that Sampson's request is a ``dedicated effort by those who consider the death penalty unjust to make the unimportant seem critical, to rewrite the record, and to disparage years of toil'' by three ``experienced and able'' defense lawyers -- Stephanie Page, Robert L. Sheketoff, and David A. Ruhnke.
To buttress their view, the prosecutors quote Wolf's remarks after the verdict praising the trial lawyers on both sides for working ``with incredible industry'' and skill. The prosecutors also quote the May 2007 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upholding the death sentence. The ruling said Sampson was ``ably represented by learned counsel.''
Wolf issued an order Friday saying the hearing could last several days. He indicated he might schedule further hearings for both sides to call witnesses about whether a new trial is warranted.
On July 24, 2001, Sampson fatally stabbed Philip McCloskey, a 69-year-old retired pipefitter from Taunton. McCloskey had picked up Sampson, who was hitchhiking, in Weymouth, but Sampson took control of the car and drove McCloskey to a wooded area where he stabbed him 24 times, authorities said.
Three days later, authorities said, Sampson fatally stabbed Jonathan Rizzo, a 19-year-old George Washington University sophomore from Kingston, who had picked up the hitchhiking Sampson in Plymouth.
On July 30, he strangled Robert ``Eli'' Whitney, 58, of Penacook, N.H., in a house that Whitney had been tending for an elderly woman in that town, authorities said. Sampson, who confessed to all three killings, pleaded guilty to state murder charges in New Hampshire.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com
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