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United States v. Sampson

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 16, 2016



          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Gary Lee Sampson pled guilty to two counts of carjacking resulting in death and was sentenced to death in 2004. The First Circuit affirmed the judgment. United States v. Sampson, 486 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2007). In 2011, the Court (Wolf, J.) vacated the death sentence in light of juror misconduct, and the First Circuit affirmed, ruling that Sampson is entitled to a new penalty phase trial pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Sampson v. United States, 724 F.3d 150, 170 (1st Cir. 2013). The case was reassigned to this session of the Court on January 6, 2016. Trial began with jury selection on September 14, 2016.

         In support of its non-statutory aggravating factor of “Future Dangerousness of the Defendant While Incarcerated, ” the government has proffered evidence of Sampson's conduct from his decade in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana (Terre Haute) following his first penalty phase trial. See generally Doc. No. 2201 (sealed). In June 2016, the Court determined that some of the evidence was not admissible either because it was not probative of future dangerousness or because it was insufficiently reliable for admission in a capital proceeding. Doc. No. 2305 at 8-10 (sealed). Then, last month, the Court heard testimony from a dozen Terre Haute witnesses, who were subject to cross-examination, over a three-day sealed evidentiary hearing convened to determine the admissibility of the remaining evidence. In the wake of that hearing, Sampson filed a memorandum, which the Court treats as a motion, urging the Court to exclude the remaining Terre Haute evidence because it is “non-representative of [Sampson's] time at Terre Haute, unreliable, insufficiently probative of future dangerousness, and unduly prejudicial.” Doc. No. 2423 at 20 (sealed). The government disagrees, arguing that its Terre Haute evidence is “relevant, probative, reliable, ” and otherwise admissible. Doc. No. 2444 at 1 (sealed).[1] For the reasons that follow, Sampson's motion (Doc. No. 2423) is generally DENIED, except as described below.

         I. Background

         The government's future dangerousness aggravating factor in its Second Amended Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty alleges that Sampson “is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future that would be a continuing and serious threat to the lives and safety of prison officials and inmates, ” as demonstrated by, among other things, his “prison misconduct” at Terre Haute. Doc. No. 2197 at 4, 6. At the upcoming penalty phase trial, the jury will be asked to choose between sentencing Sampson to death or to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. Therefore, the government's future dangerousness aggravator does not assert that Sampson poses a future danger to the community, and “any future dangerousness inquiry must be limited to considering Sampson's potential dangerousness in prison.” United States v. Sampson, 275 F.Supp.2d 49, 108 (D. Mass. 2003).

         In the motion before the Court, Sampson seeks to exclude evidence related to six incidents that allegedly occurred in the special confinement unit (SCU) where Sampson was housed at Terre Haute. All six of the incidents occurred entirely within locked confines of the SCU while Sampson was within his locked cell, in other locked portions of the SCU, or in restraints with guards while in another part of the SCU.

         With this background in mind, the Court generally summarizes each of the six incidents before considering Sampson's specific challenges. Nothing that follows is to be construed as the Court making findings regarding what occurred, or did not occur, at Terre Haute.

         A. December 3, 2008

         Two prison guards were distributing ice on Sampson's tier of the SCU on December 3, 2008. Doc. No. 2417 at 130-31.[2] Sampson was locked in his cell. Id. at 139. By the time the two guards arrived at Sampson's cell to deliver ice, another guard had spilled ice inside his cell through the food slot in the cell door. Id. at 131. BOP policy permitted Sampson and other SCU inmates to possess within their SCU cells a broomstick with a short handle. Id. at 138. Sampson became agitated with the two guards delivering the ice, and swung his broomstick at them through the food slot, telling them, “If I ever get out of this cell, I'll fucking kill you. You better not let me out of this cell, I'll fucking kill you.” Id. at 131-32. Sampson did not make contact with either guard with the broomstick. Id. at 132. BOP did not thereafter prohibit Sampson from possessing a broomstick. Id. at 138.

         B. May 11, 2011

         To deliver commissary in the SCU, an officer would go to an inmate's cell and hand commissary items to the inmate through the food slot in the inmate's cell door. Doc. No. 2412 at 93.[3] Three prison officers were delivering commissary to the cells on Sampson's hallway in the SCU on May 11, 2011. Id. at 94, 97. Sampson was locked in his cell when one of the officers approached to explain to Sampson why one of his special commissary orders, placed at an earlier date, had been cancelled. Id. at 94-95, 115. Sampson became angry and yelled at the officer. Id. at 95-96. The officer told Sampson to calm down so that he could deliver Sampson his regular commissary (separate from the special commissary order). Id. at 96. When Sampson refused, the officer took a few steps away from Sampson's cell to enlist a second officer to deliver Sampson's regular commissary. Id. at 98. The first officer then walked back toward Sampson's cell and, as he did, he saw Sampson grab a broomstick. Id. Sampson then stuck a short, sharp, broken wooden broomstick through his food slot. Id. at 103-04, 113. He attempted (unsuccessfully) to stab the officer, id. at 98, and then threw the broomstick out of his food slot down the hall where various officers stood. Id. at 128. The broomstick did not hit anyone. Id. at 137. Another guard then closed and locked Sampson's food slot. Id. at 111. At that point, Sampson told a guard outside his cell to “[g]et the fuck away from my door or I'll end up killing all of you.” Id. at 144.

         C. January 20, 2012

         In accordance with BOP policy in effect at the time, Sampson was outside his SCU cell within the locked hallway using a microwave oven on January 20, 2012. Id. at 146-47. The hallway was enclosed by a locked steel door. Doc. No. 2417 at 20. The microwave was located near the end of the hallway, close to the steel door that enclosed the hallway. Id. Sampson was alone in the hall; a prison guard was on the other side of the steel door. Id. While out of his cell, Sampson became angry about not being delivered ice; he began kicking the steel door, and yelled for ice. Doc. No. 2412 at 147. He then told the guard, “[o]pen this door . . . and I'll come out on the range and beat your[]- []make you my bitch.”[4] Id. at 148. He added, “[l]et me out there where there's no cameras [sic].” Id. The guard told Sampson to return to his cell, which Sampson did without further incident. Id. at 148.

         D. Febr ...

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