January 5, 2017 / 4:22 PM / 3 years ago

Jury to mull death penalty for Massachusetts triple murderer

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal jury in Massachusetts is due on Thursday to begin deliberating on whether to sentence to death a former drifter who admitted to the brutal fatal stabbings and strangling of three men during a multi-day 2001 rampage.

Gary Lee Sampson, 57, could become the second person sentenced to death by a Massachusetts jury in a two-year period, a rarity in a state whose laws do not allow for capital punishment and where polls show the idea is controversial.

Sampson is being sentenced in federal court because he began his two Massachusetts murders by carjacking his victims, a federal crime.

During the two-month trial the jury saw graphic evidence and heard grim testimony, including how Sampson had tied his second victim with a rope before stabbing him to death and chose to strangle his final victim because he had tired for being covered in his victims’ blood.

But Sampson’s attorneys argued that his troubled history, including drug use, abuse suffered during multiple prison stints and a series of head injuries that affected his brain meant that life in prison without possibility of parole was the more just punishment.

“We don’t need to kill Gary Sampson to protect society,” defense attorney Michael Burt said during Wednesday’s closing arguments at Boston federal court. “The death penalty should be a last resort.”

The trial marks federal prosecutors’ second attempt at having Sampson executed. He was sentenced to death in 2004 after pleading guilty to his crimes but a judge overturned that sentence in 2011 after learning that one of the jurors on that case had lied about having been a victim of domestic abuse.

Sampson’s victims were Philip McCloskey, 69, Jonathan Rizzo, 19, both of whom he stabbed to death after they picked him up while he was hitchhiking in Massachusetts, and Robert Whitney, 58, who he strangled after breaking into the New Hampshire house where Whitney served as caretaker.

If Sampson is sentenced to death it will mark the second time such a decision has been made by a Massachusetts jury in two years. Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is imprisoned after being sentenced to death in May 2015, a little more than two years after the attack that killed three people and injured 264.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott

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