Death Sentence For A Former Student

When A Kid You Knew Is Sentenced To Death

When I see the TV pictures of a 44 year-old Gary Sampson, I can't help thinking about what he looked like when he was 14 to 17 years old. I don't see a tattooed man wearing a tank-top and chains around his waist and legs. Photos of his days at Abington High School have appeared in the newspapers and these have helped me to remember those same days when I was a teacher at the school. The seventies was a time when most boys were wearing there hair longer than the kids of the sixties or fifties. Some, who were known as jocks, opted for short hair almost like the crew-cuts of the forties. Gary didn't fit into either group. I would say his haircut was somewhere in between. He didn't stand out for his appearance or for that matter, for any particular achievement. He was known by every teacher and adult in the building as one of the small minority of kids who were always getting into trouble for not adhering to school rules or for crossing the boundaries of civilized behavior. I don't remember any instances of violence or felonious occurrences. Mostly, he had a reputation as a difficult kid to discipline.

I came to know Gary through my day to day contact with kids in those days who were not in my classroom taking Chemistry. There were times when my duties required supervision throughout the school. This is when I earned my salary. The other times, in my classroom, I approached my job as though I would have done it for nothing if I could have afforded it. The supervisory times involved duties in Detention Hall, so-called Study Halls, Boys lavatory duty, corridor duty and supervision of an outside area...sort of like a corrections officer.

Gary didn't take Chemistry, but I did encounter him in my supervisory duties many times. Gary's reputation extended to other students at the school. He was known as the " scary older kid you should stay away from", according to my son Frank. Frank's friend , Tom Majenski ,lived in the same neighborhood with Gary. Tom and his older brother Dave ,who is Gary's age, remembered him for his capacity for almost anything and his propensity to hold long-standing grudges. Tom is presently a State Police officer and his brother is on the Abington Police Department. A newspaper account reported that when Sampson returned to Abington just before the murders, he was there hoping to encounter the older Majenski.

Did Gary have thoughts in those days of one day committing horrendous crimes? Did he see in his young victim the kind of person he was somehow denied the opportunity to become? Or, did he see just another human being who happened to be in his sights at the time?

Two well-known and accomplished authors have asked these and similar questions after brutal crimes were committed and the perpetrators condemned to death. There are striking similarities between Gary Sampson's crimes and those described in Truman Capote's book, In Cold Blood. The following account is from Cedco Publishing: IMPACT ON THE '60s: Truman knew his impact: "There's never been anybody like me," he once told a biographer, "and after I'm gone there ain't ever gonna be anybody like me again." Truman revolutionized modern literature with his "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood, published in part in the New Yorker in '65 and as a book in '66, becoming one of the landmarks in modern literary history. He had spent six years on the book, doing hundreds of interviews and compiling 6000 pages of notes. The book was about the senseless murder of the four members of the Clutter family on a farm in Garden City, Kansas, reported in the New York Times on November 16, 1959. Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were captured on December 30, '59, and they were executed on April 14th of '65.

Published as a book the next year, In Cold Blood was his masterpiece, and it was made into a startling film in '67. The tragedy and the book had quite an impact on him: Just after it was published he said, "The whole experience for me was a very enlargening one because I came to know and feel I understood a kind of world that was really new and alien to me. I always had a certain feeling of great sadness because of the events that happened," and later he added that if he had known what the book was going to cost him emotionally, he never would've started it. Part of the fascination with readers was how cold-blooded the killers were: "I really admired Mr. Clutter," said Perry Smith, "right up to the moment I slit his throat." While researching In Cold Blood, he was in attendance when the two killers were executed in Kansas in 1965, Truman watched the first hanging, but he ran out of the warehouse where the gallows were located before the second execution.

Norman Mailer wrote his book about another Gary, who committed senseless murders and was executed. His name was Gary Gilmore and his book is The Executioner's Song. The review by Steven Wu may cause one to read the book and help to understand the two Garys : Executioner's Song is Norman Mailer's award-winning "true life novel" about the nine months between Gary Gilmore's release on parole and his eventual execution. It is an exceedingly, perhaps excessively, detailed account of those months, with all sorts of minutiae about the day-to-day lives of these people, up to and following Gilmore's shocking murders of two complete strangers one bloody evening. The first half of the book, from Gilmore's release on parole to the killings that signal his return to prison, is an exceptional piece of creative journalism. Mailer does an extraordinary job describing the lives, beliefs, and passions of the small community to which Gilmore returns. I grew up among highly educated, fairly well-off members of the suburban middle class, so I can't say whether Mailer's portrait of small-town Utah life is accurate--but I can say that it was evocative and that it felt very real.

Even more compelling is Mailer's portrayal of Gilmore. His excavation into Gilmore's mind is one of the best arguments in favor of the death penalty that I have ever read. The portrait of Gilmore that emerges from the book is not one of the traditional raving serial killer, or of the cold-blooded psychopath (a la Hannibal Lecter). Instead, you encounter somebody much more complex, and therefore more chilling: an occasionally charming, occasionally violent, always irresponsible man full of regrets and passions but also hidden insecurities and deep, dark pools of anger. Gilmore is a frightening person not because he's violent or lunatic; he's frightening because, at a fundamental level, he's alien, unknowable to the rest of us, his true thoughts so hidden and so foreign--perhaps even to himself--that you can only watch him crawl toward his death with a sort of sick fascination. And Mailer somehow manages to get across that picture of Gilmore without once stooping to mere explanation; instead, Mailer shows us by giving us the details of Gilmore's daily life, by describing his interactions with the people around him, and by showing us the reactions of others as they brush up against this most curious of creatures

What caused Capote and Mailer to investigate and study these pitiful characters? There were two components that existed in both cases: The crimes were brutal and cold and the punishment was death by execution. My interest in Gary Sampson includes the knowledge that I knew him as a boy in school and my personal feelings about the death penalty. Most of my friends and acquaintances either know I am opposed to the ultimate penalty or they would predict my opposition. I can understand those who say that execution is the best deterrent since that individual will never be able to repeat his crime. I can sympathize with the relative of a victim and his desire for some kind of closure through the final penalty. I know how most people feel about their perceptions of rampant crime in society .Yet, I haven't changed how I would vote on the issue if ever given the opportunity to do so. I still maintain that it diminishes all of us as human beings if the only solution we have to serious crimes is to put someone to death. The ultimate crime, in my opinion , is to kill a human being for a crime and to discover at a later time, that the person was innocent. One can argue , as our governor has, that forensic science has reached a point where there is a certainty of guilt in some cases. Also, that sometimes a murderer will confess to his crimes and remove all doubt.

When considering the confession, let us think about some terms commonly associated with the word : overturned,coerced,recanted About the certainty of forensic science, consider a well understood principle of physical science. It has its origin in quantum theory as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The title is sufficient to reveal there is uncertainty in science. There is no exact measurement, therefore there is no such thing as an exact science. Every measurement, whether it is obtained by a ruler, a scale or a modern laser-style instrument has a plus or minus associated with it. Since all science is based on experiments and all experiments are based on measurements and all measurements have uncertainty associated with them, it follows that all science is uncertain including forensic science notwithstanding the guy on the TV show CSI. Some may point out that nothing is absolutely certain in life, so why should we deny ourselves the justice of capital punishment. The doctrine of reasonable doubt cannot and should not apply to the death penalty. Who will declare the level of acceptable doubt and how will it change with time? Should the level for wrongful executions be 1 in 100, 1 in 1000, 1 in 10,000? How about 1 in 50 million, the same odds as winning the big lottery? Just like the lottery , someone eventually wins ( loses ). To summarize my stand on the issue: The Death Penalty diminishes us as human beings when we seek revenge. And there is a possibility, even if remote in some cases, that an innocent person will be executed. There was a time when I had to reconcile the above with a crime that was so horrible, it pains me to describe it and to remember it. I was willing to forego the "uncertainty principle " and my moral stand. A 15 year-old girl was abducted by a man while riding her bike home from school. She was brought to a remote wooded area , molested and tied by ropes to a tree. He left her there and went about his daily business as a clerk in a donut shop. Not once did he consider calling someone to tell them about her whereabouts. He never thought about the terror this little girl suffered day after day and night after night unable to scream loud enough for anyone to hear. When she was finally discovered , the macabre scene, caused by the rope around her neck, must have been unbearable for even the most seasoned police officer. Some of the evidence in two trials resulted in dismissals because it was obtained by stimulating a witness memory through hypnosis. A third trial produced a conviction and as far as I know, the killer is still in prison. At the time of the trial, I thought about how unfortunate it was that the death penalty wasn't available. Now , after many years I am glad he wasn't killed . If he was , he wouldn't get up every day and face the same questions about his predicament. As a cold-blooded individual, we know there is no remorse or guilt but there is resignation that society is getting its due every day of every year and not just once with the injection. We can hope he will live to be one hundred. Shortly after the discovery of the body and revelation about the crime in the newspapers, I wanted the one responsible to suffer the same experience in the woods. I thought he should be brought to a remote site in the woods , tied to a tree , and left there for six days and nights, close enough to the sounds of traffic and peoples voices but far enough so that his screams would not be heard. He would be rescued after six days which seemed to be about how long he would survive . After all, if we kept him there for seven days he would have died and I don't believe in the death penalty. I don't remember how long I harbored these feelings but eventually they disappeared. If they hadn't ,I would have to accept that I was being diminished to the same level as the murderer
Many express satisfaction with Sampson's sentence By CATHLEEN GENOVAThe Patriot Ledger ABINGTON
Malcolm Whiting said. ˜They turn themselves around at some point. I guess he was one of the ones that didn't. He's probably getting what he deserved.'' George Whiting thinks a sentence of life in prison would have been more appropriate. "I have general opposition to the death penalty,'' he said."It's not going to bring the victims back. Depriving him of his liberty for the rest of his life would be sufficient.''
Mary Winter sat a few booths away. She grew up in Abington and was a few years ahead of Sampson in school. She lives in upstate New York but is visiting her sister, who still lives in Abington, for the holidays. Winter thinks the death penalty was warranted, given the brutality of the murders. "It was just so random,'' she said. "It wasn't like he knew them or had a grudge against them. That could've been us walking out of this restaurant. It's a waste of taxpayers' money keeping him in jail, and he deserves it.''

Jonathan Rizzo had just left his job as a waiter at the Weathervane Restaurant near Plymouth Harbor when he stopped to give Sampson a ride. Sampson ordered Rizzo to drive him to Abington, where he marched the George Washington University student into the woods behind the Abington Ale House, tied him to a tree and stabbed him numerous times.
Many Abington residents and many people who were in town yesterday for lunch or on errands were quick to express satisfaction with the death sentence for Sampson. "He worked hard for it. I hope he enjoys it,'' said Roger Greenough of Abington, sitting in an Abington Ale House booth with two friends. "Fry him,'' Ed Cardinal of Abington said. "I think they should just kill him. He's sick.'' Cynthia Marlborough of Duxbury and Jennifer Martina of Marshfield sat with co-workers at the Ale House."Somebody who goes to that extent cannot be rehabilitated,'' Marlborough said."There are big character flaws there that prison would not be able to rectify.'' "He showed no remorse,'' Martina said. "They begged for their lives and he didn't care.''
Down the road at Trucchi's Market, Shirley Thornton of Weymouth stopped her shopping cart full of grocery bags to ponder the Sampson jury's decision. "I'm not a violent person, but I just think it was so horrible that we really have to start setting some examples,'' she said. Pat Powers of Abington left the store with a similar thought. "It was the right decision'' to sentence Sampson to death, she said. "I just feel it was a heinous crime. What he put that young boy (Rizzo) through - I feel bad for his family. "I know Massachusetts has never been in favor if it (the death penalty), but I just think that somebody like that should never have an opportunity for parole - to get out and do that again.''