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Death penalty trial of triple Massachusetts murderer comes to close
January 4, 2017 / 11:05 AM / 9 months ago

Death penalty trial of triple Massachusetts murderer comes to close

BOSTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Massachusetts man who admitted to murdering three people in a week long 2001 rampage are due in federal court in Boston on Wednesday to make their last arguments to the jury that will determine whether he will be executed.

Gary Lee Sampson, 57, could be the second person sentenced to death by a federal jury in Massachusetts in two years, a rarity in a state whose laws do not allow the death penalty for state-level crimes.

Sampson pleaded guilty to murdering two men who picked him up while he was hitchhiking in Massachusetts and a third man in New Hampshire more than a decade ago. He was sentenced to death for the Massachusetts crimes in 2004.

A judge in 2011 overturned that sentence when he learned that one of the jurors had lied about her history as a victim of domestic violence.

That decision set the stage for a second sentencing trial, which played out over the past two months. Lawyers for Sampson argued that his history of being the victim of abuse as a child, mental illness and drug abuse should convince the jury to spare his life.

Sampson himself addressed the court last month, apologizing for killing two men, aged 69 and 19, in Massachusetts and then murdering the 58-year-old caretaker of a vacation home he broke into in neighboring New Hampshire.

Prosecutors have argued that the length and brutality of his crime spree, with the Massachusetts murders coming in two separate incidents, make him deserving of a punishment a federal jury in the state last chose in 2015 for the Boston Marathon bomber.

The bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is currently appealing his sentence.

If the jury decides not to sentence Sampson to death, he will spend the rest of his life in federal prison.

Even if he is sentenced to death at this trial, which is expected to last two months, Sampson will have a years-long appeals process ahead of him.

Of the 75 people sentenced to death on federal charges since 1988, only three have been put to death.

Sampson’s victims were Philip McCloskey, 69, Jonathan Rizzo, 19, slain in Massachusetts, and Robert Whitney, 58, killed in New Hampshire.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Dan Grebler

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