HARTFORD, Conn. – Death penalty opponents set off Sunday on a five-day walk to protest the state's plans to execute a serial killer who admitted killing and raping eight young women in Connecticut and New York in the early 1980s.
About two dozen protesters began the 30-mile journey that will eventually lead to the prison where Michael Ross (search) is scheduled to be put to death Friday in what would be the first execution in New England in 45 years.
"So many people have asked me, 'Why are you doing this for Michael Ross?'" said Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (search), who is leading the effort. "We're not doing this for Michael Ross. We're doing this because it is state-sponsored homicide."
Protesters plan to walk for periods each day through Thursday night, stopping at the state Capitol, at churches and for vigils along the way.
They began before dawn in Hartford at Gallows Hill at Trinity College (search), the site where the state executed five criminals in colonial days. Later, they held a moment of silence for the eight women Ross admitted killing and their families.
Most opponents will not walk the entire 30 miles. They will come and go over the next few days. For those who are marching, clergy have offered to open their homes to give them a place to rest at night.
Though many participants acknowledged there was little hope the execution would be halted, they hoped to send a message about capital punishment.
In January, a telephone poll by Quinnipiac University showed 59 percent of Connecticut voters supported the death penalty and 70 percent supported Ross' execution.
Walter Everett, whose 24-year-old son Scott was killed in Bridgeport in 1987, said he never wanted his son's killer to die, just to serve a long prison sentence.
Everett, a Methodist pastor in Hartford, once testified before a parole board for the man to have an early release after serving time with good behavior.
"I'm convinced the death penalty is society's way of admitting defeat," he said.
Marjorie Henry, 71, lived directly across the street from the Wethersfield prison where the state conducted its last execution in 1960, putting to death Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky (search) in the electric chair for a series of killings and robberies.
The memory of that night causes her to cringe, even now.
"I just remember a chill," she said. "Being chilled to the core of the soul."