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New Death Penalty Hearing for Sampson and Mehanna Appeals

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on March 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit made headlines at the end of last week with news regarding two notorious Massachusetts convicted criminals, Gary Lee Sampson and Tarek Mehanna.

New Death Penalty Hearing

Gary Lee Sampson pleaded guilty to carjacking and killing three people, and a jury sentenced him to death in 2003, reports The Boston Globe. District court Judge Wolf vacated his sentence after he learned that "one of the jurors lied about her family's history with drugs and law enforcement," noting that "he would have excluded her if he had known," according to The Boston Globe.

On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed his decision.

Prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty again, and last week at a hearing, Judge Wolf scheduled the new sentencing trial date in February 2015. Sampson has been in prison since he was convicted and now suffers from end stage liver disease. Because of his condition, his attorneys are asking for a life sentence instead of the death penalty. On the other hand, prosecutors are asking for a speedy trial date noting, "The crime victims, Mr. Sampson's victims, have rights," says The Boston Globe.

Mehanna Files Cert Petition

Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, traveled to Yemen to join a terrorist training camp and when he was unable to find one, he returned and began translating al-Qa'ida materials, and materials supportive of jihad and/or al-Qa'ida, from Arabic into English. He posted the translations on a website, at-Tibyan, an online community of jihad and al-Qa'ida sympathizers.

Last November, the First Circuit affirmed the conviction of Tarek Mehanna for terrorism related offenses, under 18 U.S.C. § 2339B, which prohibits coordinated action with terrorist organizations. It was the First Circuit's first opportunity to apply the Supreme Court's analysis in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which held that normally protected political speech may be criminalized if it's "coordinated" with groups, designated by the United States, as terrorist organizations.

Rather than address the issue squarely, the First Circuit decided around it, affirming Mehanna's convictions noting that the trip to Yemen by itself was enough to establish a conspiracy. Last Monday, Mehanna submitted his petition for writ of certiorari. If the Supreme Court denies cert, we can guess that they don't find the First Circuit's holding problematic. But if they do grant cert., they may want to clarify the meaning of "coordinated." We'll be keeping an eye out on how this petition progresses.

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