Posted Wednesday, Dec. 24, 1 p.m.
After ten hours of deliberation, a federal jury sentenced the confessed murderer of GW student Jonathan Michael Rizzo to death Tuesday.
In September, Gary Sampson confessed to killing Rizzo and two other men in separate incidents in July 2001. The trial, which started earlier this year, revolved around whether Sampson should get death or life in prison.
Michael Rizzo, Jonathan’s father, said while the sentence does not bring a sense of closure, the Rizzo family was satisfied with the ruling.
“This ruling doesn’t close a hole in our lives but it brings a sense of justice,” he said.
Michael Rizzo said that his family, including Jonathan’s mother Mary and brothers Nicholas and Elliot, were present at the courthouse to hear the jury’s sentence.
Many members of Jonathan’s Kingston, Mass. community rallied behind the Rizzo family and supported giving Sampson the death penalty, Michael Rizzo said.
“This was a ruthless act by an evil man and a growing sentiment of fear is evolving in communities,” he said.
The jury of nine men and three women read the ruling out to a silent and motionless Sampson, who is the first person in more than 50 years to receive a death sentence in a Massachusetts court, the Associated Press reported.
Massachusetts outlawed the death penalty in 1984, however, prosecutors were able to seek the death penalty for Sampson by trying him under federal law.
Sampson’s case is only the second since the 1984 ban that has been brought to federal court in Massachusetts.
U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said that jurors delivered a fair verdict and upheld their oath to deliver a just ruling.
“A sentence of death is the only appropriate punishment for the crimes that Mr. Sampson has committed,” said Sullivan, as reported by the AP.
Jonathan Rizzo was slated to enter his sophomore year at GW when his body was found in the woods several miles from his home.
According to court testimony, Rizzo, who was on his way home from work, picked up a hitchhiking Sampson. Sampson then forced Rizzo to drive him into the woods, tied him to a tree, and stabbed him to death.
Senior Paul Kennedy, a close friend of Rizzo’s who also attended high school with him, said his mother woke him up to tell him about Sampson’s death sentence.
“I didn’t expect this to happen,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy informed several members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, to which Rizzo belonged, of the jury’s decision.
While the decision was somewhat of a surprise, Kennedy said he and members of the fraternity were pleased with the ruling.
“This was the result I was hoping for and in a sense it does bring some closure to us,” he said.
Kennedy added that although a sentence of death has been handed down to Sampson, a lengthy appeals process is likely to follow.
“The case will be held in appeals for God knows how long, but it’s nice for this part to be over,” he said.
Following the ruling, Sampson’s lawyer said they would seek an appeal.
“I respect the verdict, but I disagree with it. There are terrible crimes, the victims have suffered terribly,” said David Ruhnke, Sampson’s lawyer, as reported by the AP.
In an attempt to skirt the death penalty during the trial, Sampson’s defense painted a portrait of a mentally unstable man who was insane at the time of the murders.
Runke said that Sampson is still “actively mentally ill” and should not be sentenced to death, according to the AP.
If Sampson’s motion for a new trial is denied, a U.S. District Judge will formally sentence him in January.