Metro

Gary Lee Sampson in court for 1st time in decade

Gary Lee Sampson.
Associated Press/file 2010
Gary Lee Sampson.

For the first time in 11 years, admitted serial killer Gary Lee Sampson walked into a federal courtroom Wednesday as prosecutors push for a new trial to determine whether he should receive the death penalty for killing three people in 2001.

For the families of Sampson’s victims, the wounds are still fresh, and the appearance at US District Court in Boston was a painful reminder.

“It brings back 14 years of frustration and aggravation, and it makes you realize what kind of a monster this guy is, and what he did,” said Michael Rizzo, whose 19-year-old son was killed after offering Sampson a ride.

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“There’s no such thing as closure for us in this, ever, but this just reopens everything again, it makes it difficult just to get through this, realizing we have to go through this thing again,” Rizzo said.

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Sampson, now 55, had admitted to the 2001 carjacking killings of Jonathan Rizzo, from Kingston; 69-year-old Philip McCloskey of Taunton; and Robert Whitney, 58, of Concord, N.H. Sampson was a transient, and his victims had picked him up while he was hitchhiking.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty in 2003, and a jury agreed, but US District Judge Mark L. Wolf vacated that sentence in 2011, after finding that one of the jurors had lied on a questionnaire about her encounters with law enforcement. The judge said he would have excluded her from the jury had he known, and a federal appeals court upheld the decision.

Prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty again, and Wolf set Feb. 17 as the date for a new sentencing trial. Defense lawyers have fiercely challenged the legitimacy of the death penalty as they seek to have Sampson sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Wolf had ordered Sampson to appear before him Wednesday to make sure he understands the ongoing litigation, and the admitted murderer appeared far different than he did a decade ago. In pictures taken after his arrest, Sampson had a narrow face and an intense stare. Now, he is about 150 pounds heavier and is balding.

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Sampson wore tan prison garb and put on reading glasses to look over documents. His lawyers say he suffers from several medical ailments, including liver failure.

On Wednesday, Sampson leaned back in his chair as he told Wolf that he understands the legal proceedings.

“I have no problems with any of this,” he said.

At one point he lashed out when a prosecutor told Wolf he was seeking to preserve Sampson’s constitutional rights. Sampson blurted out, “This is [expletive].”

His lawyers have asked Wolf to postpone the sentencing trial, saying they need more time to review Sampson’s record in prison since his arrest. Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer argued that the defense team has had enough time to prepare for a trial that will mostly be repeated from 2003.

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Wolf ordered Sampson to return to court Thursday to answer under oath whether he thinks the trial should be postponed.

But for Rizzo and the families of Sampson’s other victims, they see the defense team’s bid for more preparation time simply as a delaying strategy.

“We’ve already tried this case, we’ve already had this sentence hearing. There’s not much new information,” said Rizzo. “What we have here is obfuscation by the defense team, to continually to try and push this out in hopes that we are going to go away. That is not going to happen.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@ globe.com.