APNewsBreak: Convicted killer gets new trial

October 23, 2011 - 12:55 PM

BOSTON (AP) — 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. Disrict 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.

Prosecutors had no immediate comment on the ruling.

"We just received notification and we're reviewing the order," said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.