A federal judge Monday postponed the execution of a serial killer who had tried to end his appeals and was set to become the first person put to death in New England (search) in nearly 45 years.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny came after a psychiatrist testified that Michael Ross (search) may not have been competent when he dropped his appeals and asked that he be executed for his crime spree in the 1980s.

The judge said the delay would last until a full hearing can be held on Ross' competency. He did not immediately set a date for the hearing.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we have a genuine issue here that needs to be explored," Chatigny said. "I don't believe that a reasonable person looking at this record could say categorically that this man is competent."

Prosecutors immediately appealed, asking the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to overturn the decision. The court agreed to hear the case Tuesday.

Ross, 45, is on death row for the murders of four young women in Connecticut in the early 1980s. His arrest in 1984 ended a three-year wave of attacks that stretched from Connecticut to New York, North Carolina, Illinois, and Ohio. He raped most of his victims, and killed eight of them, six in Connecticut (search).

He had been scheduled to be executed by injection Wednesday.

Ross made headlines last year when he fired the public defender's office from his case and hired an attorney to help expedite his execution. The public defender's office and others have continued to argue his appeal without his permission.

Ross has said he wants his execution to give to give closure to his victims' families.

But Dr. Stuart Grassian testified Monday that Ross wants to be executed because he finds life unbearable on death row. Grassian said that letters Ross wrote in prison suggest that he is not capable of making rational decisions about his execution.

Last week, the state Supreme Court had ruled that the public defenders have no "meaningful evidence" that Ross — an Ivy League graduate — is incompetent.

Attorney T.R. Paulding, whom Ross hired last year to speed up the execution, said his client still wants the lethal injection to go forward Wednesday.

"I think we have to prepare as if it is going to happen," Paulding said. "The only thing that will change it from my end is if Ross says to me, 'Yeah, I do change my mind; I don't want it to happen tomorrow night.' Right now he wants to keep going forward."