The state postponed plans Monday to execute a serial killer after he agreed to have his mental competency examined, delaying for at least a month what would be New England’s first execution in 45 years.
The execution was first scheduled for Wednesday and was postponed three times last week as new court challenges emerged. It was set for 9 p.m. Monday before being put off again.
Michael Ross, a 45-year-old Cornell University graduate, has confessed to eight murders in Connecticut and New York in the early 1980s. He said last year that he wanted to die to end the pain for the families of his victims.
But the attorney hired by Ross to expedite his execution now says new evidence raises questions about his competency to “volunteer” to be executed.
‘New and significant evidence’
“On Friday, new information was revealed to me that made me question Mr. Ross’ competency,” attorney T. R. Paulding said in a motion. “The last 48 hours have reinforced my belief that the execution of Michael Ross should be delayed to determine whether he is competent. New and significant evidence has come to light that I simply cannot ignore.”
He said Ross’ decision to drop his appeals remains unchanged, but he “recognizes that serious questions have been raised” about his competence and wants a more thorough evaluation.
Prosecutors also filed a motion with the state Supreme Court to halt the execution, and the state Supreme Court issued a stay Monday.
“As far as we concerned, he has done a U-turn and no longer wishes to be executed,” said Chief State’s Attorney Chris Morano. “You can’t have it halfway.”
Prosecutors vow to press on
But prosecutors said they would try to obtain a new death warrant as soon as possible and fight to prove Ross’ competency in court. It is unknown when those issues will be resolved; a new death warrant would set Ross’ execution date for no earlier than March, although lawyers in the case believe appeals could stretch much longer.
Ross was about an hour from execution Saturday morning when Paulding announced he had requested a postponement of the lethal injection. The decision came after U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny accused Paulding of not adequately investigating new evidence in the case.
“I see this happening and I can’t live with it myself,” Chatigny said in a telephone conference with Paulding, according to court records. “What you are doing is terribly, terribly wrong. No matter how well motivated you are, you have a client whose competence is in serious doubt and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Paulding said he is persuaded of the need to explore a phenomenon known as “death row syndrome.” Public defenders have argued that years of harsh conditions on death row have in effect coerced Ross to drop his appeals.