A federal appeals court has ruled that serial killer Gary Lee Sampson’s death sentence must be vacated and a new hearing held to determine the penalty for his crimes.
Upholding a ruling by US District Judge Mark L. Wolf, the court said “we conclude — as did the district court — that the death sentence must be vacated and a new penalty-phase hearing undertaken.”
The appeals court said Sampson deserved a new hearing because of juror dishonesty. Sampson claimed that a juror had been dishonest during the voir dire before the sentencing portion of the trial, in which a jury decided Sampson deserved the death penalty. In the voir dire process, jurors are questioned to determine whether they are suitable to sit on the case.
“This case is a stark reminder of the consequences of juror dishonesty,” a three-judge panel of the court found in a decision written by Justice Bruce M. Selya. “Jurors who do not take their oaths seriously threaten the very integrity of the judicial process. The costs, whether measured in terms of human suffering or monetary outlays, are staggering.”
Sampson was sentenced to death in 2003. He was the first person to receive a death penalty sentence by a federal court in Massachusetts and the first sentenced to execution for a crime committed in the state in more than half a century.
In federal death penalty cases, a special hearing is held before a jury to determine whether death is justified.
Wolf, who was then chief of the US District Court in Boston, ordered a new hearing for Sampson after ruling in 2011 that a juror who was involved in the original penalty-phase hearing had lied about her past, possibly tainting the jury’s verdict. Prosecutors appealed the decision.
Sampson killed Jonathan Rizzo, 19, of Kingston, and Phillip McCloskey, 69, of Taunton, in Massachusetts in July 2001. He then killed Robert “Eli” Whitney, of Penacook, N.H., in New Hampshire in what prosecutors called a bloody, weeklong rampage. Sampson pleaded guilty but contested the death penalty.
In the years after, however, lawyers handling Sampson’s appeal found that one of the jurors had lied.
The juror did not report that she had once been threatened with a gun and that she had a daughter who had a history of drug abuse and had been sent to jail before.
Milton Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @miltonvalencia.