Death penalty challenge to be heard in ’01 murders

AP Photo/Jim Cole, File

BOSTON (AP) — A judge is set to begin hearing motions challenging the constitutionality of the federal death penalty in the case of a man who confessed to carjacking and killing two men in Massachusetts and killing a third man in New Hampshire during a weeklong crime spree.

Gary Lee Sampson was sentenced to death, but U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf overturned that after finding that a juror’s lies about her background deprived Sampson of his right to an impartial jury.

Sampson’s sentencing re-trial is set to begin in February.

Wolf has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on defense motions seeking to bar the death penalty, including one that argues it is unconstitutional to force the death penalty on citizens of a state that has rejected it.

Massachusetts abolished the state death penalty in 1984. Sampson is being prosecuted under the federal death penalty.

The defense also has filed a motion asking to preclude death as a punishment because the system for imposing death sentences has an unacceptable rate of error.

Sampson pleaded guilty in the 2001 killings of Jonathan Rizzo, a college student from Kingston, and Philip McCloskey, a retiree from Taunton. He confessed to carjacking the men, then stabbing them to death after assuring each of them that he only planned to steal their cars. He was convicted separately in state court in New Hampshire in the killing of Robert “Eli” Whitney.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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