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Judge Wolf: Courageous? Or coward?

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What you think of Chief US District Court Judge Mark Wolf and his decision to overturn a death sentence for serial killer Gary Lee Sampson may depend on where you get your news.

Wolf ruled that Sampson was entitled to a new trial on whether a death sentence was justified because one of the jurors who sentenced him in 2004 dishonestly concealed aspects of her background that could have been prejudicial.

The Boston Herald splashed the story across its front page under the headline “Dead Wrong.” The story focused primarily on the reaction of Mike Rizzo, the father of one of Sampson’s victims, to Wolf’s decision to give “the heartless murderer another chance at life.” Not until late in the third paragraph is there any explanation given for Wolf’s decision.

NECN goes the same route in its story. Rizzo very calmly explains his frustration that Sampson, who confessed to the murders, would not be put to death. “Judge Wolf overturns it because he doesn’t like it,” Rizzo concludes. The station also interviews former US attorney Michael Sullivan, who calls the ruling “hyper-technical” because no actual or implied bias by any of the jurors was uncovered.

Most other news outlets reported Wolf’s explanation for his ruling before giving reaction to it. That’s what the Globe story did, as well as stories by WBUR and the Washington Post (via AP).

Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, applauding Wolf’s ruling in a blog post on Boston.com, calls it a good day for the criminal justice system. He also sees the ruling as evidence of a fundamental flaw in the jury system – that 12 jurors can rule impartially.

Sampson killed two men in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire in 2001. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to death by Wolf after a jury ruled that he deserved the death penalty. The sentence was upheld upon appeal and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In May 2009, Sampson’s new attorney, William McDaniels, argued that three jurors had answered questions about their background inaccurately. Wolf ruled two of the jurors made unintentional errors, but he said a third juror did conceal that her husband had threatened her with a gun and her daughter had been jailed for drug use.

“If these matters had been revealed, the court would have found that there was a high risk that after being exposed to the evidence at trial [the juror’s] decision on whether Sampson should be executed would be influenced by her own life experiences,” Wolf wrote in his decision, which is linked to in this Lawyer’s Weekly article.


                                                                                                                                                    --BRUCE MOHL

BEACON HILL
 
The legislative redistricting process has played out far differently -- and better -- this time than a decade ago, writes Paul McMorrow in CommonWealth’s Back Story, because lawmakers adopted a much more open process and technology innovation has allowed anyone to try their hand at district map-making.

The New Bedford City Council is asking Attorney General Martha Coakley to determine if the tribal set-aside in the casino bill is lawful after councilors heard from representatives of two potential developers who claim the language imperils any private effort to build a casino in the area.

The Senate version of the casino bill would funnel gambling proceeds to a number of wealthier school districts while bypassing many of the state’s poorer districts, the Globe reports.  The Globe offers a run-down of all the main differences between the House and Senate versions of the casino bill.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman acknowledges the state Lottery could take a significant hit between casinos and public mistrust of the Lottery over recent revelations about bettors manipulating the Cash WinFall game.

Timothy Bassett, the former executive director of the Essex Regional Retirement Board, was fined $10,000 by the State Ethics Commission for doing private lobbying business during work hours. The Salem News reports Bassett earned $134,000 a year as executive director of the retirement board and about $14,000 a year as a lobbyist.

The state attorney general’s office ruled a bid process in Lynn involving competing paving companies run by brothers was “overly restrictive of competition” and needs to be done again, the Lynn Item reports.

Robert Ward abruptly resigned yesterday as dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth citing his health and a long commute -- and denying it had anything to do with a Herald report that said he misused the school’s credit card for personal expenses.

OCCUPY

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay, when a reporter once asked what he thought of the execution of his team while they were mired in a winless season, remarked, “I’m in favor of it.” The National Review apparently is taking one Occupy protester’s sign to heart as well.

The Berkshire Eagle notes that US Rep. John Olver didn’t know that the the Occupy Wall Street movement had reached the Berkshires.

Slate checks in from an occupied Las Vegas, where the movement is resonating in the country’s foreclosure capital.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Pittsfield and its environs have the most single people over 55 in the country.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The controversial Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, already trying to block new state regulations aimed at limiting the use of shock therapy treatment, has paid out $11,500 in lobbying fees this year in Washington to derail a bill that would ban the use of physical restraint and seclusion.

House Democrats are calling for hearings into the $1.5 million legal bill that Republicans so far have authorized to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

President Obama has added Plymouth and Norfolk counties to the list of regions eligible for post-Irene disaster aid.

ELECTION 2012

The president has something that his Republican challengers don’t have: More money.

Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The family of US Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is a vice presidential possibility, apparently did not flee Cuba for the US after Fidel Castro took power, but more than two years before contrary to the senator’s often-repeated claims.

US Sen. John Kerry steps in to help Newton Mayor Setti Warren pay off his campaign debt.

Mitt Romney goes off-message and offers praise for President Obama following the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy.  US Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, says the GOP didn’t support aid to Libyan rebels because President Obama is the commander-in-chief. With his recent foreign policy triumphs, Andrew Sullivan says that if the president were a Republican, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now.

Breaking! Mitt Romney and Rick Perry still don’t like each other. Also, Romney might actually be kinda serious about competing in Iowa.

Candidate fundraising totals don’t mean much in the post-Citizens United world.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Federal Reserve weighs further aid for the housing market.

EDUCATION

Student loan debt is expected to hit $1 trillion by the end of the year.

HEALTH CARE

A new federal study suggests low-income women who move into less impoverished areas are less likely to be obese or have diabetes, reports Governing. “This study proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,” said Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Far too often, we can predict a family’s  overall health, even their life expectancy, by knowing their zip code.”

The Lahey Clinic in Burlington is revamping its transplant services because of an unusually high rate of post-operative organ failure among kidney transplant patients.

Patients with a lethal, antibiotic-resistant bug have been treated at nearly half of all Massachusetts hospitals, a new report says.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State lawmakers go to Cape Cod to hear from supporters and opponents of wind siting legislation.

Radio Boston looks at energy efficiency in the wake of a Washington group’s report ranking Massachusetts first in the nation on energy efficient policy. CommonWealth has the report.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray tours a new solar facility under construction in Easthampton, one of the largest planned in the state.

MEDIA

USA Today is selling commercial access to its database of articles, reviews, Census figures, and sports salaries, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

THE END IS NEAR AGAIN

Harold Camping, the California minister who predicted the world would end on May 23, says that, in fact, it’s curtains today, October 21. This time around, however, Camping is avoid the press, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

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