Psychiatrist: Conn. Serial Killer Competent

A state psychiatrist said serial killer Michael Ross (search) does not suffer from "death row syndrome," despite three suicide attempts and claims in writing that life on death row was becoming increasingly unbearable.

Dr. Michael Norko (search) was the first witness to testify Thursday in new competency hearings for Ross, who is scheduled to die by injection May 11 in what would be the first execution in New England in nearly 45 years. He has admitted killing eight young women in Connecticut and New York in the 1980s.

Norko stood by his earlier finding that Ross is mentally competent (search) to decide to forgo further appeals and volunteer to be executed.

State public defenders have argued that Ross likely suffers from so-called "death row syndrome" — a theory that solitary isolation can cause severe mental health problems and suicidal tendencies — and is trying to commit state-assisted suicide. Ross' last suicide attempt was in 2003.

But Norko said he has seen no evidence that Ross' decision was made out of despair and depression wrought by years of close confinement on death row.

Norko testified that Ross understands the impact of his decision. He said Ross received a letter from the Vatican urging him to pursue his appeals, but not even that could sway him.

"He has been able to withstand the stress of confinement to a large extent," Norko said. "Overall he has been able to utilize his strengths to adapt to his circumstances to the extent that it's possible to adapt to the circumstances."

Ross and his father are among those expected to testify at the hearing, which was to resume Friday and is expected to last a few days.

Ross, a 45-year-old Cornell University (search) graduate, was arrested 21 years ago, ending three-year spree of attacks in Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio.

Though he said he did not want to die, Ross has said he decided last year to drop his appeals to spare his victims' families additional agony.

Ross came within hours of being put to death on Jan. 28, but the execution was delayed when his attorney, T.R. Paulding, announced a potential conflict of interest.

It was later disclosed that Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny had threatened to go after Paulding's law license if he found that Paulding, in pressing for a prompt execution, had neglected or ignored evidence that his client was incompetent.