Nov 2, 2016 8:19 AM

Testimony to begin in death penalty retrial for drifter who killed NH councilor

NH1.com

BOSTON (AP) — A drifter who was sentenced to death in the carjack killings of two Massachusetts men will ask a new jury to spare his life at a sentencing retrial that is set to get underway in federal court in Boston.

Gary Sampson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death in 2003, but a judge granted him a new trial in 2011 after finding that one of the jurors at his first trial had lied about her background. Opening statements in the retrial are scheduled for Wednesday.

Sampson was a 41-year-old career criminal when he went on a weeklong crime rampage in July 2001. He left North Carolina, where he was a suspect in a string of bank robberies, and returned to Abington, a small town about 25 miles south of Boston, where he grew up.

Prosecutors said his first victim was Philip McCloskey, a 69-year-old retired pipefitter form Taunton who picked Sampson up hitchhiking. Sampson later confessed, telling police that he tied McCloskey up and stabbed him 24 times.

Sampson also confessed to killing Jonathan Rizzo, a 19-year-old college student from Kingston who also gave Sampson a ride. Rizzo was tied to a tree, stabbed repeatedly and left to die in the woods behind a restaurant in Abington.

Sampson continued his killing spree in New Hampshire, where he strangled Robert Whitney, a former Concord city councilor. Sampson was sentenced separately in New Hampshire to a life term.

Since Sampson has pleaded guilty, the new jury will only be asked to decide his punishment: life in prison or the death penalty.

Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, but Sampson, now 57, was prosecuted under federal law, which allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty when a murder is committed during a carjacking.

Sampson's new lawyers have submitted a list of more than 200 mitigating factors they hope will persuade the jury to spare Sampson's life, including their claim that he is mentally ill and suffers from traumatic brain injury caused by several falls as a child.

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