Convicted murderer facing death returns to court
BOSTON (AP) — A man who was sentenced to death for carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men appeared in court Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade.
Gary Lee Sampson pleaded guilty to killing 19-year-old Jonathan Rizzo and 69-year-old Philip McCloskey during a weeklong crime spree in 2001. A jury recommended the death penalty, but that sentence was later overturned by a judge who found that a juror’s lies about her background denied Sampson his right to an impartial jury.
Sampson faces a sentencing re-trial in February, when a new jury will be asked to decide if he should receive the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.
On Wednesday, Sampson’s lawyers asked that the sentencing retrial be delayed until October. U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf asked the lawyers to file a motion on the request, to be discussed as the hearing continues Thursday.
Sampson, now 55, was brought to court so Wolf could question him about his decision to waive his right to be in court for pretrial hearings. Sampson has not been seen publicly since he was sentenced in 2004. He has been held at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The father of one of the men killed by Sampson said before the hearing he planned to attend.
“It’s frustrating to have to be in the same room with him, but I also want him to know that we are there, we are not going anywhere, we are going to continue to push for what we think is the right justice for as long as we can. It’s important that he know that,” said Michael Rizzo, Jonathan Rizzo’s father.
Jonathan Rizzo, a student at George Washington University, was home for the summer and had just left his job at a Plymouth restaurant when he encountered Sampson. Sampson told police he assured Rizzo that he only wanted to take his car and would not hurt him. Sampson confessed that he tied Rizzo to a tree and repeatedly stabbed him and slit his throat.
McCloskey, a retired pipefitter, was forced by Sampson to drive to a secluded area in Marshfield. Sampson told police he promised McCloskey he wouldn’t hurt him. McCloskey was stabbed 24 times.
During the same week, Sampson broke into a cabin in Meredith, New Hampshire, and strangled Robert “Eli” Whitney, a former city councilor in Concord. Sampson was convicted separately in Whitney’s killing in state court in New Hampshire.
Sampson was the first person sentenced to death in Massachusetts under the federal death penalty statute. Massachusetts has not had a state death penalty since it was abolished by the Legislature in 1984.