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Convicted killer finds romance on death row

In Connecticut, a woman known as a bright mathematician has become romantically involved with serial killer and rapist Michael Ross who is set to be executed in May.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In Oklahoma, Susan Powers is known as a bright mathematician who created a Web site for a group that cares for abused animals.

In Connecticut, she is the mysterious woman who became romantically involved with serial killer and rapist Michael Ross.

Ross, who has confessed to raping and killing women in New York and Connecticut in the early 1980s, agreed last year to drop his appeals against the death penalty. His execution, scheduled for May 11, would be the first in New England in 45 years.

He and Powers, however, have rekindled a romance she had broken off in 2003. Powers has promised to marry him and move closer if he will fight his execution.

“The woman of my life who I love, who abandoned me, has come back into my life,” Ross writes. “But now I must go and abandon her. And I hate that, because while I never hated her when she abandoned me, I fear that she will hate me and not be able to forgive me. And that I fear even more than the execution itself.”

Their relationship is detailed in Ross’ letters — decorated with hand-drawn hearts and flowers — and a deposition by Powers. The documents were part of six days of testimony that concluded last week before a judge who will decide if Ross is competent to give up his death row appeals.

An issue of control
Death row romance is not rare. Nationwide, about 23 percent of death row inmates had spouses in 2003, the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Justice Department. Others, like Ross, have girlfriends or boyfriends.

“They’re certainly not unusual,” said Sheila Isenberg, who interviewed dozens of women for her book, “Women Who Love Men Who Kill.” “They’re not crazy. The relationships fill their needs.”

Ted Bundy, Florida’s serial rapist and murderer, was married in prison and even fathered a child before his execution. John Wayne Gacy was engaged when he was executed for torturing and murdering dozens of young men. Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh received several marriage proposals, and Richard Ramirez, the Los Angeles “Night Stalker” convicted of 13 murders, was visited on death row by hundreds of young women.

Women who date killers come from all backgrounds. Many were abused by their husbands or fathers, Isenberg said.

“These relationships represent a situation where a woman could be in control,” Isenberg said. “The man could not hurt them.”

Most of the women are in denial about the guilt of their lovers, Isenberg said. Prisoners also have plenty of time to devote to the women and the relationships offer the women a chance at fame and excitement, she added.

Article sparked romance
Ross and Powers chat by phone regularly, discussing everything from life on death row to the latest episodes of “This Old House” and the “Twilight Zone.” She brought him a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities.” He suggested she read “Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

Powers, who declined to comment, began corresponding with Ross in 2000 after her seven-year marriage ended, according to court documents. She had stumbled across an article he wrote about forgiveness.

Powers said she was “petrified” the first time she visited Ross. But she concluded that his crimes stemmed from mental illness.

“I try to see the good in people,” Powers said in a deposition. “I think that anybody, everybody, regardless of what they had done, I think there is some good in them; that they deserve and need to be loved just like anybody else.”

Powers visited Ross every six to eight weeks and eventually they got engaged. But she ended their relationship in July 2003, a move that prompted Ross to attempt suicide.

Powers re-entered his life several months ago, before his January execution date was postponed. Since then, she has urged him to restart his appeals and even intimated suicide if he did not.

Ross says May 10 will be their last day together. He is unsure whether she should attend his execution.

“I do want you here that night because I want to feel your love before these people kill me,” Ross wrote. “But for your own mental health, I’m not at all sure.”