US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said Thursday that she will let stand a federal appeals court ruling that ordered a new sentencing trial for Gary Lee Sampson, the admitted serial killer who was sentenced to death in 2003.
Ortiz’s decision means she will have to decide whether to seek the death penalty again or to let Sampson serve a life prison sentence.
Ortiz announced the decision in a brief letter filed Thursday with US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, who oversaw Sampson’s trial a decade ago.
The letter said only that she will not challenge the decision in July by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but gave no explanation.
In its decision, the court had upheld a previous ruling by Wolf to throw out the death sentence decision and to hold a new trial, because of a problem with a juror.
The decision by Ortiz shifts the battle over Sampson’s sentence back to Wolf’s courtroom. The judge is expected to ask federal prosecutors how they want to proceed: whether they want to pursue the death penalty in an entirely new sentencing hearing or let Sampson remain 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 if he had known about her past, ruled that the death sentence process was flawed and overturned the sentence. The appeals court affirmed the ruling.
Relatives of McCloskey and Rizzo were not available for comment Thursday, but have told the Globe they are willing to endure another sentencing trial so that Sampson can be sentenced to death.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.