HARTFORD, Conn. – 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 (search), a 45-year-old Cornell University (search) 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.
"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 he wants a more thorough evaluation.
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 say it could be months before all the legal hurdles are cleared.
"I long for the day when we can say that we've forgotten about Michael Ross, and I want everyone to remember that we should never forget his victims," Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano said. "It is my hope that sometime in the not-so-distant future we will finally be able to give their families a sense of justice."
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.
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.