Federal prosecutors in Boston said today they would once again seek the death penalty for Gary Lee Sampson, the serial killer who successfully challenged his first death sentence in a series of court appeals.
The prosecutors said in a letter to US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf that they are seeking to empanel a new jury to decide whether Sampson should be executed.
“The United States continues to believe that the 2003 Jury, after careful deliberation, reached the correct and just decision as to Sampson’s sentence,’’ US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office said in court papers.
Sampson, 54, had pleaded guilty to the July 2001 carjacking and killing of 19-year-old Jonathan Rizzo and later of Phillip McCloskey, 69, in what prosecutors called one of the most horrendous crimes of the time. That same week, he also killed Robert “Eli” Whitney, 59, of New Hampshire, in that state. He pleaded guilty to that murder in state court in New Hampshire.
A federal jury in 2003 sentenced Sampson to death, despite his bid to serve life in prison. But after years of hearings, Wolf vacated the jury’s decision in 2011. He found that one of the jurors in the death sentence phase of the trial had failed to disclose that she had past encounters with law enforcement: her daughter had been in prison for drug abuse and her ex-husband once threatened her with a gun.
The judge said he would have excluded her from the jury had he known, based on the possibility of prejudice against someone charged with violent crime.
The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld Wolf’s decision in July, and prosecutors were left to decide whether to let Sampson serve life or to seek a new sentencing trial, which could be a costly, drawn-out, and emotional process.
Relatives of Rizzo and McCloskey told the Globe in September that they wanted prosecutors to pursue the death penalty again.
The prosecutors’ announcement today comes as US Attorney General Eric Holder is deciding whether to seek the death penalty in another case in federal court in Boston. Holder must decide by the end of January whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber.
Sampson’s death penalty had been the first handed out in a federal court in Massachusetts, and the first deriving from a crime in the state in more than a half-century. Federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in two other cases in Massachusetts. In the case of Darryl Green and Branden Morris, two Dorchester gang members, the prosecutors ultimately dropped their charges and the men were tried in state court. Massachusetts does not have a death penalty.
In the case of Kirsten Gilbert, the former nurse who was convicted in 2001 of giving lethal injections to patients, a jury chose to impose a life sentence rather than the death penalty.