April 14, 2005

Execution Date Set for Ross '81

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The Cornell graduate who admitted to killing eight women is scheduled for lethal injection on May 11 after repeated postponements, the last one coming just hours before his execution time.

The date may be overturned again if Superior Court Judge Patrick Clifford rules in favor of arguments that Michael Ross ’81 lacks the mental competence to volunteer for his own execution.

In 1987, Ross was sentenced to death for the murder of four Connecticut women in the early 1980s. His death penalty ruling was overturned by the state supreme court in 1995, only to be reinstated in May 2000.

Last year, in a surprising turn of events, the serial killer hired an attorney to speed up his own execution.

Dr. Stuart Grassian is one of Ross’s examiners who testified Monday that the inmate’s judgment has been impaired after years of solitary confinement.

“There are people who can’t take it anymore, but who are going to show people how strong and powerful they are,” Grassian said at a hearing reported by the AP. “He’s [Ross] trying to go down in a blaze of glory like these guys did.”

An expert on the effects of long-term confinement, Grassian described Ross as “a narcissist who has no empathy for the victim’s families,” according to AP news.

Other doctors disagreed. Dr. Michael Norko, former director of Whiting Forensic Institute, testified last Thursday that Ross “clearly understands what’s at stake. The evidence is this is his decision, which he makes in contrast to what his friends, supporters and lawyers have advised him to do,” according to the AP.

Dr. Suzanne Gentile, a suicide expert from Whiting, offered similar conclusions.

Judge Clifford, who upheld Ross’s mental competency last year, must sort through the conflicting psychiatric evaluations to reach a decision that could end Ross’s life and his nearly twenty years in prison or once again delay his execution.

Prof. John Blume, law, said that the judge ruling on Ross should consider his motivations for wishing death.

The Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, Blume recently completed a study of death inmates who waived their appeals. His research shows that the profile of these inmates is similar to the profile of people who commit suicide, Blume said.

According to Blume, if Ross is attempting to expediate his execution out of a sense of responsibility and remorse, the judge should waive his appeal. However, if Ross is motivated by suicidal tendancies, then the judge should reevalute Ross’s case.

“We don’t let people commit suicide in free world … Unless there’s some sort of special affirmative action program for death row immates,” the state should not assist Ross to end his life, Blume said.

Ross’ only surviving victim is actually pleading against his execution after testifying for the persecution in earlier trials.

“I am not him. I will refuse to take his life because he decided to take a bunch of girls’ life,” Vivian Dobson said on National Public Radio last month. “That’s not what we’re here — we’re not killers. He is, but we’re not.”

She does not want Ross’s death on her hands, she said.

On NPR, Dobson told the host that she has been living with heavy guilt for the past twenty years because she survived and the other girls did not.

She will “keep on fighting to get rid of this death penalty so he can think about and dwell on every little thing he’s done to those girls and what he’s done to me,” Dobson said.

She added, “He cannot get off that easy.”

Between January and February alone, Ross’ execution was delayed four times.

After U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny delayed Ross’ Jan. 26 execution to hear more evidence on his mental capacity, another date was set for Jan. 28.

Hours before the scheduled time, Ross’ lawyer, T.R. Pauling, declared a potential conflict of interest that postponed the date again. It turned out that Judge Chatigny had threatened to go after Pauling’s law license if he discovered the lawyer withholding evidence about Ross’s incompetency.

On Feb. 10 Judge Clifford set the current execution date and also appointed Thomas Groak as a special counsel to investigate Ross’ mental soundness. Groak’s appointment to the case allows Pauling to fully represent his client’s interests in expediting the execution.

If Judge Clifford rules that Ross is mentally competent, the graduate from Agriculture and Life Sciences will be the first person to be executed in New England in 45 years.

Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor