February 17, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Print More

For the myriad readers who neither know nor care anything about Michael Ross, he is a 1981 graduate of our beloved Cornell. Growing up on a Connecticut farm, he was the frequent victim of abuse by a deranged mother who was twice institutionalized. To escape the abuse, Michael would often retreat to his farm chores. One of his pastoral duties, oddly, was to strangle and kill deformed chickens. The job had been done by his uncle, but was passed on to eight-year-old Michael when the uncle committed suicide. As most young kids were donning fluorescent AYSO uniforms or playing pond hockey in the backyard, Ross was slowly slipping into a dangerous, neglected psychosis.

Despite his tormented upbringing, Michael’s intellect and penchant for farm life landed him at an Ivy League institution. For the most part, Michael fit in well at our College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. However, in May of his senior year, the body of Dzung Ngoc Tu turned up in one of our gorges. The following year, Michael came back in the spring, and the strangled body of a 16-year-old was found in Walkill. A few years later, Michael confessed to being a serial killer and the state of Connecticut sentenced him to death.

Ross had been scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday, Jan. 26, in the slow T.V. time period before the Super Bowl. Inexplicably, some misguided federal judge stayed the state execution, pending more evidence about Michael’s mental capacity. Michael had been demanding to die for some time now, and has made two serious in-custody suicide attempts. He even fired a prior lawyer who tried to delay his execution. With any luck, Ezra’s troubled son should be executed by spring.

Of course, no one in Connecticut or at Cornell is remotely aware — let alone considerate of — Michael’s plight. On Super Bowl Sunday, we all casually chugged beers so we could endure Paul McCartney’s halftime show. On that day, Michael — with his momentary reprieve — was languishing in a prison cell, waiting to die.

With the recent dissolution of the National Hockey League, it is clear that all of this drama belongs on T.V. It would cater to the mentality that cheers for Barry Bonds, enjoys Most Extreme Elimination Challenge or takes delight in watching spectators get trampled during the running of the bulls. We would love to see live shots of Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, but if we can’t see these atrocities, the least we can ask is for T.V. to be in the room as Connecticut murders our Cornell brother.

Why not broadcast Michael’s execution? Let the intellectuals wheeze over trite issues like the Eighth Amendment, criminal deterrent policies, or the essence of depravity. Without the four rounds of the NHL playoffs, networks could even showcase a series of episodes leading up the eagerly anticipated finale. Instead of the Western Conference quarterfinals, there could be an early episode of Michael’s dorm room here on campus. Viewers could tour the health service office — an agency that is supposed to help troubled students. Instead of watching Martin Brodeur and the Devils, we could check out the gorge where Michael left his first victim. The ratings would be enormous, and just imagine the highlights on SportsCenter.

Granted, this country’s attitude towards the death penalty is somewhat ancient. In 1924, attorney Clarence Darrow said that despite the teachings of every religion and philosophy, “We are still doing what our barbaric ancestors did when they came out of the caves.”

In his defense of two mentally ill teenagers facing the death penalty, Darrow stated, “Someday, if there is any such thing as progress in the world, if there is any spirit of humanity that is working in the hearts of men, someday men would look back upon this as a barbarous age which deliberately set itself in the way of progress, humanity and sympathy, and committed an unforgivable act.”

In a recent episode of The Simpsons, a Canadian tells Homer that he wants to come to the U.S. in order to see, “someone with the I.Q. of a child executed by the state. We don’t have that up here.”

No, they don’t have the death penalty in Canada. Nor in England, France, Georgia, Germany, Israel, Russia, South Africa or just about any other civilized place on earth. Nor have they had it in Connecticut for the last half-century.

Thankfully, that’s about to change. And when it does, to let all the world know we are as enlightened as Iran, put Michael’s death on T.V. in the NHL time slots. Why would anyone want to watch Joe Nieuwendyk ’88 play hockey when they can watch a fellow Cornellian get executed? Just imagine the ESPN ratings as the last gasp of life is choked out of this mentally ill misfit. Just think how proud we will all feel as this hapless Ag grad suffers through his final moments of life — on television.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. The Ultimate Trip appears every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen