BOSTON (AP) — Jurors in the death penalty trial of a man convicted of carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men in 2001 were shown gruesome photos of his victims while a prosecutor described how they were stabbed over and over while begging for their lives.
Gary Lee Sampson was condemned to die in 2003 for killing Jonathan Rizzo, 19, a college student from Kingston, and Philip McCloskey, 69, a retired pipefitter from Taunton. But that decision was later overturned by a judge who granted him a new sentencing trial in 2011 after finding that one juror had lied about her background.
Sampson, a drifter from Abington, received a separate life sentence for killing a third man, Robert “Eli” Whitney, in New Hampshire.
Sampson, now 57, tricked the carjacking victims into thinking he would spare their lives but then stabbed them each more than a dozen times, slit their throats and left them to die in the woods, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer said during closing arguments Wednesday.
As Hafer described the killings — often using Sampson’s own words from his confession — he displayed grisly crime scene photos. Soft sobbing could be heard in the courtroom from some members of the victims’ families.
The victims, Hafer said, were “kind, caring souls” who were “brought together by the pure heinousness and cruelty” of Sampson’s decision to kill them.
“That’s what this case is about: these cruel, cruel murders,” Hafer said. He urged the jury to give Sampson the death penalty.
But defense attorney Michael Burt asked jurors to spare his client’s life, saying Sampson took responsibility by confessing and pleading guilty to the killings.
Sampson is not offering excuses or justification for his crimes, Burt said, but is asking only to live a “very narrow and restricted life” in prison without the possibility of release.
Sampson’s lawyers are asking the jury to consider 115 mitigating factors they say support a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
Sampson’s lawyers say Sampson suffered head injuries as a child and has antisocial personality disorder and severe dyslexia. They also cite a call he made to the FBI before the murders because he thought he was “losing control” and planned to turn himself in for a string of bank robberies he was wanted for in North Carolina. The call was accidentally disconnected.
Hafer told the jury Sampson tricked McCloskey and Rizzo into giving him rides by wearing conservative clothes and trying to look like a businessman. “Dressed to deceive,” Hafer said.
Once inside their cars, Sampson threatened them at knifepoint but promised he would not kill them, Hafer said. Sampson forced them to drive to wooded areas, then tied them up, still assuring them he would let them live. He even sprayed Rizzo with bug spray after tying him to a tree, telling the teenager he was protecting him from insects while he waited to be rescued, Hafer said.
Hafer called the defense claims of a traumatic childhood “fiction” and derided the testimony of defense experts who said Sampson has a brain injury.
“It truly is the most convenient brain injury you will ever see,” Hafer said.
Burt said each juror should consult his or her own conscience to decide whether Sampson should receive a life sentence or the death penalty.
“It’s about as stark and gray a moral question as anybody could ask any human being to decide,” Burt said.
The jurors are expected to being deliberations after they receive instructions from the judge.
Massachusetts abolished the state death penalty in 1984, but Sampson was prosecuted under federal law, which allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty when a murder is committed during a carjacking.