The accused murderer of GW student Jonathan Michael Rizzo pled guilty Tuesday to killing Rizzo and another man more than two years ago.
Gary Sampson, who confessed to carjacking and killing Rizzo in July 2001, will avoid trial and face a Massachusetts federal jury that could sentence him to death or life in prison without parole, said Samantha Martin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts. The jury will begin deliberations Sept. 18.
Rizzo, 19, of Kingston, Mass., was a rising sophomore when he reportedly picked up Sampson at the side of a road while driving home from work. Rizzo’s body was found several days later in the woods near Abington, Mass. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck, chest and throat.
Rizzo was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the Residence Hall Association. Last November, his friends and family gathered in Thurston Hall, where Rizzo lived as a freshman, to dedicate a lounge in his name.
Sampson admitted to killing Rizzo and another man, Phillip McCloskey, after being arrested in a botched house burglary several days after Rizzo’s body was found.
Michael Rizzo, Jonathan’s father, said Sampson only pled guilty to his “clearly premeditated” murder in order to avoid the death penalty.
“(His attorneys) realize he will be found guilty,” Michael Rizzo said. “They’re using the plea to show he has remorse for what he’s done. He realizes his life is on the line.”
“There’s no remorse there whatsoever; it’s strictly a survival instinct,” he added.
Michael Rizzo said he wants Sampson to be sentenced to death.
“It’s the only form of justice that makes sense to me at this moment,” he said.
“I’m sure Jon begged for his life, and he wasn’t given the opportunity to live,” he added.
Martin said federal prosecutors will ask the court to sentence Sampson to death but would not disclose any other details about the case.
She said if Sampson receives death, it will be the first time a convicted murderer is given the maximum sentence under federal laws in Massachusetts, which doesn’t have the death penalty.
Sampson’s lawyers, who could not be reached for comment, told the Associated Press that Sampson should get life in prison because he tried to turn himself in before the killings.
Sampson said he tried calling the FBI to turn himself in for a bank robbery he committed several weeks before killing Rizzo and McCloskey.
Some of Jonathan’s friends said Sampson’s crime is so abominable that they want him to be sentenced to death, despite their qualms about capital punishment.
“Up until two years ago, I was not in favor of capital punishment,” said senior Paul Kennedy, who had Jonathan’s best friend since their freshman year of high school. “But something like this makes you think of reasons for supporting it.”
“I can’t wish (the death penalty) on anyone, but at the same time I wouldn’t be upset if he got it,” said senior Jay Hadden, a member of Kappa Sigma.
Jonathan’s friends remember him as an active and enthusiastic person and said they look back on his life positively and do not dwell on the nature of his death.
“He was just so happy all the time,” senior Frank Karlinski said.
“I cried for at least a whole day straight,” Hadden said, remembering the day when he found out Jonathan had been killed.
“I try not to remember him that way,” he added. “I try to remember him from Thurston. He’d make us laugh and be funny.”
Karlinski recalled that almost everyone from Jonathan’s fraternity and his small hometown of fewer than 5,000 people attended his funeral in August 2001.
“The entire Main Street was a parking lot,” he said. “It was parked four cars across.”
Kennedy said he hopes to preserve Jonathan’s memory.
“It is hard to believe that after this year, not many people will be left here who knew him,” said Kennedy, also president of Kappa Sigma. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.”
Kappa Sigma holds an annual cookout in Kingston in honor of Jonathan. The first one, held last year, was well attended by GW students living in the area.
Michael Rizzo said his family is hoping to live as “normal a life as possible” for Jonathan’s two brothers, Nicholas, 17, and Elliot, 14.
He does not believe the family can ever truly adjust to Jonathan’s death.
“Every time there is a family gathering or vacation, there is someone missing,” he said. “Nothing will ever close this for us.”
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.