January 25, 2005

Judge Grants Stay of Cornell Grad's Execution

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Yesterday, a federal judge postponed the execution of serial killer Michael Ross ’81, who had tried to end his appeals and was scheduled to become the first person put to death in New England in nearly 45 years.

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny said he wants to hear more evidence about Ross’ mental capacity. The judge said the delay would last until a full hearing can be held on Ross’ competence. He did not immediately set a date for this hearing.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we have a genuine issue here that needs to be explored,” Chatigny said.

Prosecutors said they would immediately appeal.

Ross, 45, is on death row only for the murders of four women in Connecticut in the early 1980s. His arrest in 1984, however, ended a three-year spree of attacks that stretched from Connecticut to New York, North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio. In this time he raped most of his victims and killed eight of them, six in Connecticut.

This is not the first time Ross’ execution has been delayed. Ross was convicted of the Connecticut killings in 1987 and sentenced to death. The state supreme court subsequently overturned the penalty in 1994, only to re-sentence him to death in May 2000.

He had been scheduled to be executed by injection tomorrow.

Ross made headlines last year, when he fired the public defender’s office from his case and hired an attorney to help expedite his execution. The public defender’s office and others have continued to argue his appeal without his permission.

Ross has said he wants his execution to give closure to his victims’ families. But Dr. Stuart Grassian testified Monday that Ross wants to be executed because he finds life unbearable on death row. Grassian said that letters Ross wrote in prison suggest that he is not capable of making rational decisions about his execution.

Last week, the state supreme court had ruled that the public defenders have no “meaningful evidence” that Ross is incompetent.

Attorney T.R. Paulding, whom Ross hired last year to speed up the execution, said Ross still wants the lethal injection to go forward tomorrow.

“I think we have to prepare as if it is going to happen,” Paulding said. “The only thing that will change it from my end is if Ross says to me, ‘Yeah, I do change my mind; I don’t want it to happen tomorrow night.’ Right now he wants to keep going forward.”

In 2001, Ross was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for a killing he committed while a student at Cornell.

Another killing occurred at the University in May ’81, the month Ross graduated. At the time, investigators were unable to determine whether the student’s death was an accident, a homicide or a suicide. Friends of the student had said that she had been depressed.

District Attorney George Dentes ’76 has said he sees no real point in prosecuting Ross for the student’s murder, given his current death sentence. The student’s parents have also expressed no interest in prosecuting the case.

Two other rapes at Cornell have been linked to Ross, although no charges have been brought. Ross has confessed to about two dozen rapes.

Ross claims to have been driven to rape and kill by a disorder called “sexual sadism,” a diagnosis which is debated by psychiatrists but which the jury eventually dismissed.

Ross currently says that he has turned his life around with the help of medication and is now a Christian.

While at Cornell, Ross studied agricultural economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Archived article by Pat Eaton-Roberts
The Associated Press

And Michael Morisy
Sun Senior Writer