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2nd Intermission

Sampson’s lawyers continue legal filings in death penalty case

Gary Lee Sampson’s lawyers continued their flurry of recent motions Tuesday in an effort to spare the confessed killer’s life ahead of an Aug. 12 hearing in federal court in Boston, where he faces a February re-trial in the sentencing phase of his death penalty case.

Attorneys for Sampson, 54, who has admitted to torturing and killing three people in Massachusetts and New Hampshire during a gruesome crime spree in 2001, filed several motions in US District Court in Boston to bar the imposition of the death penalty in the case.

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Sampson’s team has filed a number of similar motions in recent days to meet a filing deadline that Judge Mark L. Wolf had previously imposed.

Among the arguments raised Tuesday in the filings was that Sampson’s constitutional rights were violated because Michael J. Sullivan, the US attorney whose office secured the initial death sentence in 2003, had pushed for that penalty in 2001 while he was still Plymouth district attorney.

Once he became US attorney, Sullivan was tasked with assessing the case and recommending to then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft whether to seek capital punishment.

“This critical recommendation came from a man who would have effectively had to admit error to recommend anything other than the death penalty,” Sampson’s attorneys wrote. “That circumstance injected arbitrariness and caprice into the process, contrary to the Eighth Amendment” against cruel and unusual punishment.

Sullivan defended his handling of the Sampson case in 2003, telling the Globe that he was responding to the horror of the crimes and “how completely unnecessary the vicious murders were.”

Sampson pleaded guilty to the carjacking and killing of Jonathan Rizzo, a 19-year-old college student from Kingston, and Philip McCloskey, 69, a father from Taunton. He also killed Robert “Eli” Whitney, 59, of New Hampshire, that same week, and was convicted of the murder in that state.

Sampson received a death sentence in the federal case in Boston in 2003 for the Rizzo and McCloskey slayings, but the penalty was vacated after a problem with a juror came to light.

He now faces a re-trial in the sentencing phase, which is slated to begin in February 2015.

As of Tuesday evening, federal prosecutors had not responded to the most recent defense motions to strike the death penalty.

The government did, however, file a strongly worded opposition to earlier discovery motions and filings from Sampson’s legal team, arguing that many of the requests have no bearing on the case.

“Sampson’s scorched earth litigation tactics are particularly inappropriate here,” prosecutors wrote. “Indeed, if Sampson’s tactics are not summarily rejected, this case will devolve into one in which the McCloskey, Rizzo, and Whitney families are denied justice, while the taxpayers are stuck with legal bills for frivolous motions designed entirely to delay, distract, and overwhelm.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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