Sampson death-penalty case judge steps aside

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BOSTON (AP) — The federal judge presiding over the death penalty trial of a Massachusetts man is stepping down from the case.

Gary Lee Sampson was condemned by a jury to die after pleading guilty to carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men in 2001. In 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf ordered a new sentencing trial after finding that a juror had lied about her background.

The decision Wednesday by Wolf to step down comes after he refused a request from prosecutors to recuse himself over his past association with an inmates’ rights advocate who may testify for the defense in Sampson’s retrial.

In a memorandum Wednesday, Wolf noted that his status as a senior judge entitles him to reduce his caseload, and the Sampson case could require him to spend several more years on the pending retrial and follow-up motions and procedures.

Wolf sentenced Sampson to death in 2004. He said in his memorandum Wednesday that keeping the case would likely conflict with obligations and plans to work on projects related to international affairs, such as an anti-corruption program he is establishing at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.