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    Lawyers spar over Gary Lee Sampson retrial date

    Gary Lee Sampson admitted killing Jonathan Rizzo of Kingston, Phillip McCloskey of Taunton, and Robert “Eli” Whitney of New Hampshire in 2001.
    Gary Lee Sampson admitted killing Jonathan Rizzo of Kingston, Phillip McCloskey of Taunton, and Robert “Eli” Whitney of New Hampshire in 2001.

    Lawyers for a confessed spree killer hope to delay his resentencing trial for at least a year and a half, but US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz wants Gary Lee Sampson back in court months sooner, according to a document filed jointly by the defense and the prosecution Friday.

    Sampson’s attorneys asked US District Senior Judge Mark L. Wolf to wait until June to set a date for the retrial, allowing them time to review information and establish a realistic timeline.

    Sampson confessed to three homicides in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2001. Two years later, a federal jury sentenced him to death, but Wolf vacated that decision in 2011 after finding that a juror withheld information about her past encounters with law enforcement.


    Now, with a newly assigned lead attorney and several members of Sampson’s previous legal team unavailable, the defense argued, it is impossible to say how long it will take them to review volumes of evidence in the case, but they estimate they will need at least a year and a half.

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    The US attorney’s office asked instead that the judge set a date of Feb. 17, 2015. February is the month Wolf previously suggested as a “reasonable” time frame to begin the retrial, citing the decade that has passed since Sampson was first sentenced to death and the nearly 2½ years since he vacated that sentence and ordered a new trial.

    A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office declined to comment on the difference in the dates requested.

    “All I can tell you is the government is ready for trial,” Christina DiIorio-Sterling said.

    Texas attorney Danalynn Recer was appointed in January to lead Sampson’s defense. Recer is founder of Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston, which provides attorneys to defendants in death-penalty cases who cannot afford them, according to its website.


    Recer did not respond to repeated requests for comment Sunday.

    Sampson admitted killing Jonathan Rizzo, 19, of Kingston, Phillip McCloskey, 69, of Taunton, and New Hampshire resident Robert “Eli” Whitney, 59, during a 2001 crime spree.

    A New Hampshire court sentenced Sampson to life in prison for killing Whitney.

    Because Sampson committed the Massachusetts killings after carjacking Rizzo and McCloskey, those homicides were prosecuted under a federal law that allows for the death penalty when a carjacking victim is killed.

    The defense said in Friday’s filing that any date set now will probably be pushed back later, creating consternation on all sides.


    “The setting of overly optimistic trial dates that are inevitably reset not only results in inefficiency and inconvenience for both legal teams, correctional personnel, the court, and court staff, but is unfair to the families of Mr. Rizzo, Mr. McCloskey, and Mr. Whitney,” the defense wrote.

    Confessed to murders

    Family members of Rizzo and McCloskey could not be reached Sunday.

    Friday’s filing also set a May 23 deadline for the defense to formally request that the US attorney withdraw the death penalty from consideration.

    In a January hearing, defense lawyer William E. McDaniels said the team would make the request because Sampson, 54, has chronic hepatitis and Stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver that has effectively prevented treatment of the hepatitis.

    He said liver disease would probably kill Sampson before the government could have him executed, if he were once again sentenced to death.

    “The fact of the matter is, Mr. Sampson’s health is precarious, and it’s real,” McDaniels said in January.

    Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.