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A man facing a new federal death penalty sentencing trial in the carjack killings of two Massachusetts men is in "precarious" health and likely has only a few years left to live, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Gary Lee Sampson has chronic active Hepatitis C and advanced cirrhosis of the liver, attorney William McDaniels said during a hearing in federal court. He is expected to live a maximum of 10 years, but more likely five years or less, McDaniels said.
Sampson's lawyer revealed his client's condition during a hearing to set a possible date for Sampson's new sentencing hearing. After nearly three hours of discussion, no date was immediately set.
Sampson pleaded guilty in the 2001 killings of Jonathan Rizzo, 19, of Kingston, and Philip McCloskey, 69, of Taunton, two men he confessed to carjacking, then stabbing to death. He was convicted separately in state court in New Hampshire in the killing of a third man during the same weeklong crime spree.
Sampson, now 54, was sentenced to death on federal charges after jurors heard weeks of grisly testimony about how he killed Rizzo and McCloskey after reassuring each man that he only planned to steal their cars.
U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf overturned Sampson's death sentence in 2011 after finding that one of the jurors had repeatedly lied during the jury selection process. Prosecutors announced last month that they plan to seek the death penalty again during a second sentencing trial.
During Tuesday's court hearing, Sampson's lawyer made it clear that his defense team is hoping to persuade federal prosecutors to drop their bid for the death penalty and allow Sampson to serve life in prison instead.
McDaniels made his remarks about Sampson's health while discussing how the defense team met with prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and made a case against the death penalty.
"The fact of the matter is Mr. Sampson's health is precarious and it's real," he said.
McDaniels said Sampson's health "bears on the practicality" of putting everyone, including the families of Rizzo and McCloskey, through another trial. He said the defense team told federal prosecutors about Sampson's health and said they would like to find an alternative to the death penalty "that would satisfy the legitimate needs of the families and make sense for the system overall."
But Rizzo's father, Michael Rizzo, said after the hearing that the families are united in their belief that Sampson should be put to death for his crimes.
"I think we would like to see Mr. Sampson executed, put to death in a way not of his choosing," Rizzo said. "That's what he invoked and made happen to our families."
Sampson, a drifter who grew up in Abington, was the first person sentenced to death in Massachusetts under the federal death penalty law. There is no state death penalty.
During the hearing Tuesday, Wolf rejected a request by prosecutors to consider recusing himself from the case because of a personal relationship he has with one of the prosecutors. Wolf worked at the same law office as the prosecutor's father-in-law from 1977 to 1981, attended the prosecutor's wedding and has occasionally given him and his wife career advice.
Wolf rejected the request, saying he has not received a formal motion to step down, had shown no signs of bias and had ruled fairly during his long involvement in the case.
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