Mass. killer gets new trial in death penalty case

Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 9:55 p.m.

BOSTON — A federal judge on Thursday threw out the death penalty sentence against a man convicted of killing three people in Massachusetts and New Hampshire during a weeklong crime spree in 2001 and ordered a new trial to determine if he will be put to death.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Gary Sampson was denied his constitutional right to have his sentence decided by an impartial jury and that he is “entitled to a new trial to determine whether the death penalty is justified in his case.”

The judge’s decision was angrily denounced by the father of Jonathan Rizzo, one of Sampson’s victims.

“I wish I could say I was surprised. I’m not surprised, I’m extremely disappointed and phenomenally outraged at the fact that one man with the ego the size of Judge Wolf’s tried to overturn the good work done by so many people in coming to the right decision many years ago,” Mike Rizzo told reporters in a conference call.

Sampson, a drifter who was raised in Abington, pleaded guilty to carjacking two Massachusetts men after each picked him up hitchhiking. He said he forced both men to drive to secluded spots, assured them he only wanted to steal their cars, then stabbed them repeatedly and slit their throats.

He then fled to New Hampshire, broke into a house in Meredith and strangled a third man.

In a motion for a new trial, Sampson’s lawyers argued that three jurors had given inaccurate answers to questions they were asked during the jury selection process.

Wolf found that one of the jurors had intentionally and repeatedly answered questions dishonestly in an attempt to avoid talking about subjects that were painful to her. She never disclosed, for example, that her husband had a rifle and had threatened to shoot her, that she had ended her marriage because of her husband’s substance abuse and that her daughter had served time in prison because of a drug problem.

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