The Death Penalty has long been a controversial issue. Nowhere is that more true than in good ol’ Massachusetts. You see, the Commonwealth, like most states, has two criminal justice systems running through it – state and federal. The crime of murder, which often carries capital punishment sentences, is usually handled in state court. In state court, there is no death penalty. However, in federal court, there is.
Depending on the circumstances, however, some murders are handled in federal court. Gary S. (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) got his murder and carjacking convictions in federal court.
The sentence? Ah, well, there is the rub.
The Defendant, originally of Abington, was convicted for his violent felonies seven years ago. The events apparently took place back in 2001. Now, seven years after a federal jury recommended the Defendant be sentenced to death for the crimes committed during a weeklong series of killings in two states, lawyers for the Defendant plan to argue in court today that he should get a new trial.
The current legal team for the Defendant who would be the first person executed for a crime in Massachusetts since 1947, contend in a 155-page motion that his constitutional rights were violated because his trial lawyers were ineffective. Therefore, goes the argument, he was wrongfully convicted.
The team says that the trial attorneys failed to give the jury a full picture of the Defendant’s history of mental illness and traumatic brain injuries dating to childhood and that the evidence would probably have discouraged jurors from recommending the death penalty in December 2003.
The Defendant had pleaded guilty to the murders, leaving the jury only to decide whether he should be executed.
Clearly, they voted in the affirmative.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s prosecutors plan to vigorously oppose the Defendant’s motion. In a 267-page filing, they argue that his request is a “dedicated effort by those who consider the death penalty unjust to make the unimportant seem critical, to rewrite the record, and to disparage years of toil” by three “experienced and able” defense lawyers, Stephanie Page, Robert L. Sheketoff, and David A. Ruhnke.
To buttress their view, the prosecutors quote Judge Wolf’s remarks after the verdict praising the trial lawyers on both sides for working “with incredible industry” and skill. The prosecutors also quote the May 2007 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upholding the death sentence. The ruling said the Defendant was “ably represented by learned counsel.”
Judge Wolf issued an order Friday saying the hearing could last several days. He indicated he might schedule further hearings for both sides to call witnesses about whether a new trial is warranted.
Let me start off with a little bit of inside information.
I have known two of the three of the previous defense attorneys. One of them, Stephanie Paige, is a well-known and extremely well-regarded defense attorney. In fact, she has written and published various articles and taught various trial advocacy courses for the Committee for Public Counsel Services and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education. She has also been cited at least once as one of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Attorneys of the Year She also has held the title of “Superlawyer” by the same publication since 2004.
I have also seen Attorney Paige in court. It is very difficult for me to put the image of Attorney Paige and the concept of incompetence in the same sentence.
Of course, I suppose, anybody can have a bad day. I have just never seen it in her case.
“So, case closed, Sam, right? No new trial is called for?”
I wouldn’t know. I do not have any inside knowledge on this particular case. However, we give the death penalty in only the most horrendous of cases (or, at least, that is the way it is supposed to be). Typically, these have to be murder cases. This being the case, I guess it means that we prize human life to a certain extent.
That being the case, particularly since we have seen many cases in which DNA or other evidence has been known to tell us that the wrong person was convicted, does it not make sense to err on the side of caution?
It would appear that this is what the Honorable Judge Wolf is doing. Rather than bow to any public pressure or fear that he might appear to be “too soft on crime”, he is taking the time to conduct the evidentiary hearing so that the Defendant has every opportunity to be heard…which, in this case, means, have a chance to live.
Homicide issues, particularly when they involve the state of mind of the accused, can be quite technical. Anyone who has any experience with the criminal justice system knows that the fact that a defendant pleads guilty does not always guarantee that he was, in fact (or in law) guilty.
Therefore, rights to appeal and things like motions for new trials are an important safeguard.
If you or a loved one is in a similar situation as the Defendant in today’s blog…and justice was not done in the first instance…you want to have an experienced criminal defense attorney review the record and pursue any rights which you might have.
The fact that you have been labeled guilty, by a judge, jury or even yourself may not be the final word.
It often isn’t.
Should you wish to consult with me in a free initial consultation in such a matter, please feel free to give me a call at 617-492-3000 .
To view the original story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://mobile.boston.com/art/30/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/08/30/death_penalty_for_carjack_killer_sampson_fought/