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Recusal Fight in Boston Death Penalty Case

BOSTON (CN) - Federal prosecutors are not taking no for an answer in their quest to have a judge recuse himself from the upcoming resentencing of convicted killer Gary Sampson.

"By moving for this court's recusal, the government seeks only to ensure public confidence in these proceedings and a record that, in the event of another death sentence, will withstand scrutiny," a motion filed Tuesday states. "Accordingly, the government respectfully submits that the interests of justice compel reconsideration of the court's recusal decision."

Sampson, now 55, was originally sentenced to death in 2003 after pleading guilty to three people in New England over the course of a week.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf vacated Sampson's sentence in 2011, however, after he discovered that one of the jurors had lied about her past encounters with law enforcement.

Death-penalty trials are uncommon in Massachusetts, and prosecutors worry that Sampson could capitalize Wolf's recent disclosure regarding his professional relationship with a potential defense witness.

Sampson's resentencing had initially been scheduled to occur last month but it has been held in limbo since Wolf's disclosure that he took part in a panel discussion last year after the screening of "The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest."

The animated documentary follows the story of DeFriest, whose numerous attempts at escaping prison transformed a four-year sentence for theft into 34 years behind bars.

Sampson was joined on the panel by noted attorney Alan Dershowitz and prisoner's rights advocate James Gilligan.

Prosecutors note that like Sampson, DeFriest had claimed that the brain damage he suffered as a child explains his violent behavior.

They say Gilligan earned praise from Sampson for an argument about the treatment of inmates that Sampson's defense attorneys may use for their client.

The material could create an opportunity for the defense to appeal whatever sentence is rendered, according to a motion from prosecutors.

Though Wolf refused to recuse himself last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer moved for reconsideration Tuesday.

"A reasonable person might question whether each of those rulings will be affected by the court's promotion of a one-sided defense movie and panel linking head injury, prison abuse, and violent behavior, its extra-record contact with Dr. Gilligan, and its praise of Dr. Gilligan and Professor Dershowitz as being 'literally like the two world's leading experts on the subject' after they had offered opinions consistent with evidence Sampson will present in this case and adverse to evidence the government will present," Hafer wrote.

On Wednesday, Wolf gave Sampson until Oct. 28 to respond to the government's motion.

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