New England's first scheduled execution in nearly 45 years was put on hold while attorneys and judges argue over the motives of a serial killer who says he wants to die.

A federal judge Monday postponed the execution of Michael Ross (search) after a psychiatrist testified he may not have been competent when he dropped his appeals and asked that he be put to death.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in New York scheduled a hearing Tuesday on prosecutors' appeal of the stay. A three-judge panel — Judges Robert Sack, Robert Katzmann and Peter Hall — agreed to hear the case.

Ross, 45, is on death row for the murders of four young women in Connecticut in the early 1980s. He had been scheduled to be executed by injection Wednesday.

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.

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 it is possible that Ross wants to be executed because he finds life unbearable on death row. He said letters Ross wrote in prison suggest that he is not capable of making rational decisions about his execution.

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny ruled Monday for a delay until a full hearing can be held on Ross' competency. He did not immediately set a date for the hearing.

"I don't believe that a reasonable person looking at this record could say categorically that this man is competent," Chatigny said. He called it "a genuine issue here that needs to be explored."

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.'"

Ross would be the first person executed in New England since Connecticut put Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky (search) to death in 1960 for a series of murders and robberies.