Federal judge asks whether serial killer Gary Lee Sampson needs mental evaluation

A federal judge is asking lawyers in the case of convicted serial killer Gary Lee Sampson whether Sampson’s mental status should be examined if prosecutors go to court again to seek the death penalty against him.

US District Court Judge Mark Wolf asked the US attorney’s office and defense attorneys to confer and report to him on “whether an evaluation and hearing to determine Sampson’s current competency to stand trial should be ordered.”

Federal prosecutors are currently pondering whether to seek the death penalty again against Sampson. Sampson admitted to killing three people in a weeklong span in 2001. After he was convicted in 2003, a jury, in the penalty phase of his trial, sentenced him to death.

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But Wolf in 2011 vacated the sentence and ordered a new penalty phase of the trial after finding that one of the jurors withheld information about previous contacts with law enforcement. And the First US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Wolf’s decision in July.

Now, prosecutors are weighing whether to press for the death penalty in a new penalty phase proceeding. If they do not, Sampson will still serve life in prison.

In an order issued today, Wolf said he also wanted the prosecution and defense to report by an upcoming hearing whether “they have reached an agreement to resolve this matter without another trial.”

A hearing in the case is tentatively slated for Dec. 19.

The Globe reported in late September that some relatives of Sampson’s victims said they wanted prosecutors to seek the death penalty, despite the emotional strain it would impose on them.