By LYNNE TUOHY
The Hartford Courant
April 22 2005, 3:13 PM EDT
killer Michael Ross is mentally competent to forgo further appeals and
proceed to his execution May 11, Superior Court Judge Patrick Clifford
ruling follows six days of hearings earlier this month, during which
two psychiatrists pronounced Ross mentally stable enough to opt to die
and two said he suffers a mental disorder that prompted his decision
to die and renders him incapable of changing his mind, although he has
told confidantes that he would like it if some "miracle" occurred
to halt the execution.
not been an execution in New England in nearly 45 years.
in December originally ruled that Ross was capable of making a knowing,
intelligent and voluntary decision to waive further appeals, after hearing
from court-appointed psychiatrist Michael Norko. At that point, Ross
was scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 26.
former public defenders, joined by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union
and members of the defense bar, persisted in their efforts to have Ross
declared incompetent so they could step in and file appeals on his behalf
that would stop the execution countdown.
rebuffed by a second state court judge, the state Supreme Court and
U.S. District Judge Christopher F. Droney. But they found a sympathetic
ear in Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny, who seized on the
issue of whether Ross was motivated by his incarceration for two decades
under the harsh conditions of death row.
was critical of the hearing held by Clifford in December, noting that
it was non-adversarial. Since firing his public defenders last summer,
Ross has been represented by Attorney T.R. Paulding, who served as standby
counsel to Ross in the mid-1990s, when Ross was seeking to stipulate
to a death sentence to avoid a second penalty phase hearing that would
rehas the gruesome details of his crimes.
the one-day competency hearing in December, Paulding argued that Ross
was fully versed on the avenues of appeal still open to him, was exceptionally
knowledge about about death penalty case law and was nonetheless choosing
to forgo his appeals and opt for execution.
he was doing it to spare the families of his victims further anguish
and the publicity each new court hearing inevitably drew. He also acknowledged
to Norko during his nearly four-hour evaluation that he did not relish
the thought of growing old behind bars and would not miss prison life.
New London State's Attorney Kevin Kane supported Paulding's contention
that Ross was competent. Chatigny found fault with the unanimity of
opinion and failure by those involved to challenge Ross's asserted competence.
the public defenders an evidentiary hearing to present further evidence
of whether Ross suffered from "death row syndrome" and was
essentially attempting to commit "state-assisted suicide."
"There is an unacceptable risk that the state court's heavy reliance
on Ross' statements and demeanor is misplaced," Chatigny wrote.
Chatigny issued two separate orders staying the execution, and Ross's
execution date was postponed first to Jan. 27, then to Jan. 28, and
again to Jan. 29 at 2 a.m.
Supreme Court ultimately vacated both orders, removing the last legal
hurdle to Ross's execution just four hours before he was slated to die.
But an extraordinary series of events had been playing out deep within
Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, where the death chamber is
earlier that afternoon initiated a conference call, ostensibly to discuss
an inmate letter that had been forwarded to him in which the inmate
asserted Ross was using his execution to commit suicide. But the overriding
theme of the call was Chatigny's castigation of Paulding and the role
he had played in helping his client be executed.
as meager Paulding's own exploration of Ross' comptence and threatened
to go after Paulding's law license if evidence came to light after Ross's
execution that indicates he was indeed incompetent. Rattled by Chatigny's
message, Paulding met with Ross and spoke with Kane and other state
officials, even as the U.S. Supreme Court was conferencing on the one
remaining bar to execution--a temporary restraining order issued by
two hours after the high court vacated that order that Paulding and
other top state officials appeared before the media to announce the
execution was again postponed, this time to 9 p.m. Jan. 31. Paulding
stressed that it was his decision, not that of Michael Ross, to seek
a postponement to investigate possible conflicts of interest.
later, on the morning of Jan. 31, Paulding filed motions in New London
Superior Court and in Chatigny's court seeking a stay of execution and
further inquiry into Ross's competency. Paulding attach to his motion
an affidavits from Norko stating his conclusion may have been different
if he had known about and been able to question Ross about several letters
in which Ross linked his efforts to be executed to suicidal ideation
and his conditions of confinement.
agreed to hold a new competency hearing, and took the unusual step of
appointing noted civil lawyer Thomas Groark as special counsel to advocate
that Ross is incompetent, thereby injecting into the new hearing the
adversarial element Chatigny found absent from the first. Chatigny dismissed
the case pending before him.
2005, Hartford Courant