275 F.Supp.2d 49 (D.Mass. 2003), CR. 01-10384, United States v. Sampson

Docket NºCR. 01-10384-MLW.
Citation275 F.Supp.2d 49
Party NameUNITED STATES of America v. Gary Lee SAMPSON
Case DateAugust 11, 2003
CourtUnited States District Courts, 1st Circuit, United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts

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275 F.Supp.2d 49 (D.Mass. 2003)




No. CR. 01-10384-MLW.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.

Aug. 11, 2003

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Emily R. Schulman, Frank M. Gaziano, John A. Wortmann, Jr., United States Attorney's Office, Boston, MA, for Plaintiff.

David A. Ruhnke, Ruhnke & Barrett, Montclair, NJ, Robert L. Sheketoff, Boston, MA, for Defendant.


WOLF, District Judge.


Defendant Gary Lee Sampson is charged with two counts of carjacking resulting in death in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3). The Attorney General has filed a notice of his intention to seek the death penalty.

Sampson has moved to dismiss the death penalty charges against him and also challenges the government's right to present certain evidence in support of them. Although Sampson raises at least one serious issue, each of his thirteen claims is either without merit or not ripe for resolution. Therefore, his motions to dismiss the death penalty charges and for certain other relief are being denied.

The fundamental facts of this case are not in dispute. On July 23, 2001, Sampson, a 41-year old white male who was wanted for committing a series of bank robberies in North Carolina, called the Boston Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the "FBI") to ask that the FBI arrest him. The call was received by William Anderson, an FBI employee. Although Sampson reportedly waited in Abington, Massachusetts for the FBI to arrive, he was not arrested. Anderson had disconnected Sampson's call and did not report it to anyone.

On July 24, 2001, Phillip McCloskey, a 69-year old white retiree, picked up Sampson, who was hitchhiking. Sampson subsequently murdered McCloskey and attempted to steal his car.

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On July 27, 2001, Sampson was hitchhiking again. He was picked up by Jonathan Rizzo, a white college student. Sampson murdered Rizzo and stole his automobile.

On July 30, 2001, Sampson encountered Robert Whitney in New Hampshire. Sampson murdered Whitney and took his automobile.

On July 31, 2001, William Gregory picked up Sampson who was hitchhiking in Vermont. Sampson pulled a knife and ordered Gregory to drive down a dirt road. Gregory, however, jumped out of his automobile, which Sampson drove away. Gregory reported that his car had been stolen. Shortly thereafter, Sampson called 911 to surrender.

Sampson was arrested by the Vermont State Police and quickly confessed his crimes, including the murders of McCloskey, Rizzo, and Whitney. He also said that he had sought to surrender to the FBI before committing those murders.

In August 2001, Sampson was charged by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the murders of McCloskey and Rizzo. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared the nation's death penalty statutes unconstitutional because, as they were written and operated, they resulted in the arbitrary and capricious imposition of the ultimate sanction. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972). By 1976, Georgia had enacted a new statute, which limited and directed the exercise of a jury's discretion to decide whether to sentence a defendant to death, that was found to be constitutional. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976). Today, thirty-eight states have laws providing for the death penalty. However, Massachusetts has since 1972 repeatedly declined to enact legislation that would reinstitute death as a penalty for murder or any other crime. Sampson was willing to plead guilty to the murder charges against him and to accept the maximum sentence permitted under Massachusetts law--life in prison without parole.

However, on October 24, 2001, Sampson was also indicted in this federal case, which could result in his execution under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 3591, et seq. (the "FDPA"). Following the Furman decision in 1972, there was not a constitutionally valid federal death penalty statute. In 1988, the federal death penalty was instituted for certain drug offenses. See 21 U.S.C. § 848(e). In 1994, the FDPA extended the federal death penalty to more than fifty additional crimes, including carjacking resulting in death, but not to murder, which is not alone a federal offense. While murder is, of course, a horrible crime, it has not historically been a federal crime. Prior to the FDPA, if Sampson had murdered McCloskey and Rizzo in Massachusetts, he would not have been subject to the death penalty. He now faces the possibility of execution because he also stole, or attempted to steal, their automobiles. 1

The Massachusetts charges against Sampson were dismissed in deference to this federal prosecution. Sampson offered to plead guilty and accept a federal sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Department of Justice did not accept this offer. Rather, on November 19, 2002, the Attorney General filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in this case.

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The court has previously rejected both Sampson's claim that the Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), renders the FDPA unconstitutional, and his related claim that he has a right to plead guilty and be sentenced to life in prison without parole. See United States v. Sampson, 245 F.Supp.2d 327 (D.Massachusetts2003). Sampson subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the death penalty charges against him, alleging that the FDPA violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, for a series of related reasons. He also attacks some of the factors and evidence on which the government intends to rely in its effort to persuade the jury that Sampson should be executed. See § III, infra. Some, but not all, of Sampson's claims are now ripe for resolution. See § V, infra.

The court has received voluminous briefs from the parties. A hearing on the pending motions was held on June 11 and 16, 2003. For the reasons described in detail in this Memorandum, the court is now deciding Sampson's primary claims as follows.

Only the Supreme Court can reverse its prior decisions that the death penalty is not inherently cruel and unusual punishment. See § VI, infra. Sampson has not proven his claim that the FDPA results in death sentences that are arbitrary and capricious because of alleged regional and racial disparities. See § VIII, infra. 2 Sampson's claims that the FDPA is unconstitutional because it does not mandate the use of the Federal Rules of Evidence at the sentencing phase of a capital case and does not provide for adequate appellate review are not ripe for resolution. See §§ IX, XI, infra. Sampson is not correct in his contentions that the FDPA does not authorize a sentencing jury to consider unadjudicated criminal conduct and that doing so would constitute an impermissible delegation of legislative power to the executive branch. See §§ XII.C, XII.B, infra.

Sampson's motion to dismiss does present a serious question concerning whether the FDPA is unconstitutional because of the mounting evidence that innocent individuals have been sentenced to death, and undoubtedly executed, more often than previously understood. See § VII, infra. However, the court finds that Sampson has not demonstrated that the FDPA is now unconstitutional for this reason.

As the Supreme Court has repeatedly reiterated, whether a penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is not determined by the standards of the eighteenth century when the Eighth Amendment was adopted. Rather, the Eighth Amendment must draw its meaning from " 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.' " Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 311-12, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S.Ct. 590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (1958) (plurality opinion)). It is, therefore, the duty of the courts to reconsider periodically whether the death penalty offends

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contemporary standards of decency. See § IV, infra.

In doing so, a court must focus on objective indicia of contemporary attitudes to the maximum extent possible. Atkins, 536 U.S. at 311, 122 S.Ct. 2242. Legislation, enacted by elected representatives, is a primary form of such objective evidence. However, the fact that a statute, or many statutes, authorize the death penalty is not the end of the inquiry. As the Supreme Court has written:

"Judicial review by definition, often involves a conflict between judicial and legislative judgment as to what the Constitution means or requires. In this respect, Eighth Amendment cases come to [the courts] in no different posture.... [T]he Amendment imposes some obligations on the judiciary to judge the constitutionality of punishment and [] there are punishments that the Amendment would bar whether legislatively approved or not."

Gregg, 428 U.S. at 174, 96 S.Ct. 2909 (quoting Furman, 408 U.S. at 313-14, 92 S.Ct. 2726 (White, J., concurring)).

Jury verdicts are also significant and reliable evidence of contemporary values. Indeed, "one of the most important functions any jury can perform in making ... a selection [between life and death] is to maintain a link between community values and the penal system--a link without which the determination of punishment would hardly reflect 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.' " Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 519 n. 15, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968) (quoting Trop, 356 U.S. at 101, 78 S.Ct. 590 (plurality opinion)).

In deciding the current meaning of the Eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court has also recently considered polling data, and the practices of England and other Western European countries that share our nation's traditions. This court has...

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