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Mounting evidence innocent people death penalty

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Judge in Boston notes 'mounting evidence' of misuse of death penalty
Rare case of federal death penalty being sought

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) --A federal judge has ruled a man accused of multiple murders is eligible for execution, although he noted concerns about whether use of the death penalty results in the killing of innocent people.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf allowed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty despite "the mounting evidence that innocent individuals have been sentenced to death, and undoubtedly executed, more often than previously understood."

Wolf ruled against Gary Sampson, who is expected to go on trial next month in the carjack killings of two Massachusetts men in 2001. Defense attorneys had sought to spare Sampson the death penalty.

Massachusetts has no state death penalty, and only once before -- in Michigan -- has the federal death penalty been given in a state without capital punishment.

"The day may come when courts properly can and should declare the ultimate sanction to be unconstitutional in all cases," Wolf wrote. "However, that day has not come yet."

In a 120-page brief argued in June, Sampson raised 13 objections to the death penalty, and to prosecutors' right to present certain evidence in support of those charges. Wolf rejected all of those arguments.

Sampson's attorney, Mark A. Ruhnke, said he was disappointed that Wolf had denied the motion, but said he was pleased with Wolf's acknowledgment of the concerns it raised.

"We are in this for the long haul, and if Mr. Sampson is sentenced to death, these issues will be around for years," Ruhnke said.

Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, declined to comment.

A drifter who had fled federal bank robbery charges in North Carolina, Sampson tried to turn himself in to the FBI on July 23, 2001, but the operator dropped the call. The operator, William Anderson, initially denied talking to Sampson, then later admitted taking the call. He pleaded guilty to making a false statement and was sentenced to six months in prison.

After trying to turn himself in, Sampson allegedly carjacked Philip A. McCloskey, 69, of Taunton, and stabbed him to death. Three days later, he allegedly carjacked Jonathan Rizzo, 19, of Kingston, tied him to a tree, slit his throat and stole his car.

He then drove to New Hampshire and broke into a vacation house, where he allegedly killed Robert Whitney, 58. Authorities say Sampson committed another carjacking in Vermont before turning himself in.

Citing the viciousness of the alleged crimes, federal prosecutors filed notice of their intention to seek the federal death penalty against Sampson, who has admitted his guilt, according to court documents and his own lawyer.

Federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in about 280 cases since 1988, and juries have sentenced 31 people to death, three of whom have been executed.

Among other arguments, Sampson claimed that he shouldn't face the death penalty because he tried to surrender but the FBI bungled it, and that the federal death penalty is illegal because of the danger of executing innocent people.


Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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