Gary Lee Sampson.


A Massachusetts man who admitted to killing three people in a 2001 rampage in two states was sentenced to death by a federal jury on Monday after a two-month trial.

It was the second time that former drifter Gary Lee Sampson, 57, has faced the possibility of execution for the stabbing and strangling murders. A 2004 death sentence was overturned by a judge in 2011 after it emerged that one of the jurors had lied about being a victim of domestic abuse.

"This was all about never giving up. Fifteen years was a long time, but we somehow don't know how to quit," Mike Rizzo, father of one of Sampson's victims Jonathan Rizzo, told reporters.

"This is what we wanted, what we fought for," he said. "Let's be thankful for that and then move on to the next fight."


Sampson is the second person to be sentenced to death by a federal jury in Massachusetts in two years, a rarity in the liberal-leaning state. Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in May 2015.

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Jurors saw the pocketknife that Sampson used to kill his first two victims, listened to his confessions in which he described the slayings in gory detail and heard from more than 100 witnesses.

Prosecutors focused on the premeditated nature of the crimes. After a series of bank robberies in North Carolina, Sampson returned to his native Massachusetts and began picking off victims.

The first two, 69-year-old Philip McCloskey and 19-year-old Jonathan Rizzo, picked him up while he was hitchhiking, a move prosecutors called a ruse to find targets. He convinced both men to accompany him to isolated wooded areas where he tied them up and stabbed them to death in separate incidents.

His third victim, 58-year-old Robert Whitney, encountered Sampson when he went to check on a friend's vacation home on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

Sampson, who was hiding there, strangled Whitney, later telling police that he had gotten tired of getting victims' blood on himself.

The jury sentenced Sampson to death for Rizzo's killing but not McCloskey's. They did not consider Whitney's murder as it occurred in another jurisdiction.

Scott McCloskey, Philip's son, told reporters he was happy with the results even though his father's name wasn't included in the sentence.

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"It's difficult to hear," he said, "but we still got the verdict we wanted. When it's all said and done, he got the death penalty and as far as I'm concerned, we won."

Defense attorneys had urged the jury to spare Sampson, citing a slew of factors including his history of drug abuse. A key element of their case was the claim that a series of brain injuries, including one sustained in a bad fall when Sampson was 5, left him unable to control his emotions or actions.

The death sentence decision suggests the jury was swayed more by the nonchalance Sampson showed after his last killing.

On an interrogation tape played to the jury, Sampson told police, "I cooked some breakfast while he was dead in the bathroom."

"Today, the jury has spoken," U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said. "Gary Lee Sampson will pay with his life for all of the heinous crimes he committed."

Kristin Toussaint contributed reporting.

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