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October 20, 2011

Federal death sentence tossed for serial killer due to juror's dishonesty

As detailed in this new AP article, which is headlined "Convicted killer Gary Sampson gets new trial," a notable federal death sentence for a notable murderer was overturned today for a notable reason.  Here are the basics:

A federal judge on Thursday threw out the death penalty 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.

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."

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.

Wolf said in his ruling that if the woman had disclosed those things during the jury selection process, the court would have found that there was a "high risk" that after listening to the evidence at Sampson’s trial, her decision on whether to sentence Sampson to death could have been influenced by her life experiences.  Wolf said the woman likely would have been excused from serving on the jury.

"In essence, despite dedicated efforts by the parties and the court to assure that the trial would be fair and the verdict final, it has now been proven that perjury by a juror resulted in a violation of Sampson’s constitutional right to have the issue of whether he should live or die decided by twelve women and men who were each capable of deciding that most consequential question impartially," Wolf wrote....

Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, who brought the case against Sampson, said he is disappointed that Sampson will get a new death penalty hearing.  "I feel horrible for the victims’ families," Sullivan said.

The ruling in US v. Sampson by Judge Wolf runs more than 100 pages and is available at this link.

October 20, 2011 at 05:34 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Spree killer, not serial killer would appear to be the correct term.

Posted by: whatever | Oct 20, 2011 10:54:42 PM

hmm and your title LIED! it wasn't tossed...just another damn illegal do-over!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 21, 2011 12:59:17 AM

Utter silliness. I haven't read the opinion--so I can't really comment if the District Judge is following the law--but the reality is that tossing a death sentence over this utter nonsense is simply crazy.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 21, 2011 8:35:32 AM

Agree the post title is misleading. Technically not inaccurate, but its tone feeds the narrative that courts upholding constitutional rights and due process are freeing killers, letting the criminal go free because the constable has blundered, etc.

In fact, as rodsmith mentions, it just means he stays in federal prison while they go back to square one on sentencing (not on the convictions), this time hopefully with a set of jurors that will follow their oaths and not undermine the process. At the end of this, he may well get another death sentence.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 21, 2011 2:50:31 PM

how true anon and we all know just how determined the state is to get it's pound of flesh....how many tries did it just take in that old mafia man's trial 5 or 6? to end up right where it started....a conviction

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 22, 2011 1:40:52 AM

I think the death penalty for anyone is unjustice. I understand that families are grieving from their losses, but putting the serial killer up to face the death penalty isn't going to bring back the one you lost. Keep the serial killers in prison for the rest of their lives. They still get to live their life that God gave them.

Posted by: katemonyo | Mar 25, 2012 11:18:12 AM

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