US attorney will not appeal court ruling striking down Gary Lee Sampson’s death sentence

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said today that she will let stand a federal appeals court ruling striking down the death sentence imposed in 2003 on convicted serial killer Gary Lee Sampson.

In a brief letter filed today, Ortiz said her office will not appeal the July decision by the First US Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out the death sentence because of a problem with a juror. No explanation for her action was included in the brief text.

Today’s decision by Ortiz shifts the battle over Sampson’s sentence back to the courtroom of US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. The judge is expected to hold a hearing soon where he will ask federal prosecutors whether they want to pursue the death penalty in an entirely new sentencing hearing or allow Sampson to spend the rest of his life in prison.


Sampson pleaded guilty to the July 2001 carjacking and killing of 69-year-old Phillip McCloskey, and of Jonathan Rizzo, a 19-year-old George Washington University student from Kingston. He also confessed to the killing of Robert “Eli’’ Whitney, 59, of New Hampshire, in that state during the same week.

Wolf presided over the sentencing phase in 2003, which ended with jurors voting to sentence Sampson to death. But in 2011, Wolf ruled that one of the original jurors had lied about a previous involvement with law enforcement as a crime victim.

Wolf, who said he would have excluded her from the jury had he known about her past, ruled that the death sentence process was flawed and overturned the sentence. The appeals court then affirmed the ruling.

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