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A Question of Life or Death

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You are a state supreme court judge. Before you is the case of Gary L. Sampson, age 41, a man addicted to alcohol and cocaine, was a deadbeat dad, a two-bit thief, and a bank robber with a long history of violence. On August 1, 2001 he turned himself in to the Vermont State Police after fleeing from pursuit for a string of three murders he committed in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Those who knew Sampson speculated that his murders were a desperate finale to a troubled life. During his early life in New England, he once bound, gagged, and beat three elderly women in a candy store; hijacked cars at knife point; and had been medically diagnosed as schizophrenic. In 1977, he married a 17-year-old girl he had impregnated; two months later he was arrested and charged with rape for having ” unnatural intercourse with a child under 16.” Although he was acquitted of that charge, his wife noticed that Sampson had developed a hair-trigger temper and had become increasingly violent; their marriage soon ended. As the years passed, Sampson had at least four failed marriages, was an absentee father of two children, and became an alcoholic and a drug user. He spent nearly half of his adult life behind bars.

Jumping bail after being arrested for theft from an antique store, he headed south to North Carolina and took on a new identity: Gary Johnson, a construction worker. He took up with Ricki Carter, a transvestite, but their relationship was anything but stable. Sampson once put a gun to Carter’s head, broke his ribs, and threatened to kill his family. After his breakup with Carter, Sampson moved in with a new girlfriend, Karen Anderson, and began pulling bank jobs. When the police closed in, Sampson fled north. Needing transportation, he pulled three carjacking’s and killed the drivers, one a 19-year-old college freshmen who had stopped to give Sampson a hand. In December 2003, Sampson received a sentence of death from a jury that was not swayed by his claim that he was mentally unfit.

Write an opinion on whether Sampson should receive the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison. Do you believe that Sampson’s crimes were a product of his impaired development, and if so, should his life be spared?

Last Updated on February 8, 2018

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