Connecticut Carries Out Its First Execution in 45 Years
WILLIAM YARDLEY and STACEY STOWE
New York Times
May 13, 2005
Connecticut carried out its first execution
in 45 years early Friday, administering a lethal injection to
Michael Bruce Ross, a convicted serial killer who abandoned his
appeals and died willingly after 18 years on death row.
Death penalty opponents held vigil outside
the rural complex of state prisons where a warden led Mr. Ross
to the execution chamber and an unidentified executioner administered
a lethal injection into his arm at 2:13 a.m. He was declared dead
at 2:25 a.m.
Mr. Ross, 45, had sought that fatal moment
for nearly a year.
In defiance of public defenders and others
who wanted to save him, he chose to forgo further appeals of his
death sentence last year. He said he wanted to ease the pain of
the families of the eight teenage girls and young women he strangled
in the early 1980s. He raped most of his victims.
A graduate of Cornell University and a
former life insurance salesman, Mr. Ross convinced judges he was
competent, smirked at psychiatrists who said he was suicidal and
often seemed exasperated by his inability to reshape his image.
"I am not an animal," he once
Late Thursday, the United States Supreme
Court rejected two efforts by others to block the execution. Yet
because of his status as a so-called volunteer, Mr. Ross had the
right to change his mind up until the moment of the lethal injection
and to say he wanted to appeal.
"All he has to do is say so, and the
machinery of death will stop," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
said during a news conference at a prison just down the street
from the prison where Mr. Ross was to die.
The execution had seemed imminent before.
In January, Mr. Ross came within hours of death before his lawyer,
T. R. Paulding, unexpectedly requested a delay. Mr. Paulding,
who has helped Mr. Ross seek execution, cited a potential conflict
of interest after a federal judge threatened earlier that day
to suspend his law license for not questioning Mr. Ross's competency
A new six-day evaluation in April led to
another finding of competency and a series of court rulings affirming
the finding. One expert said this week that he believed that the
execution would go forward because the state effectively has had
a legal "dress rehearsal."
"I think last time cleared a lot of
the underbrush out of the way," said the expert, Michael
A. Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School and a former capital
By late Thursday, some families of Mr.
Ross's victims were preparing to watch him die at the Osborn Correctional
Institution, atop a grassy slope less than a mile from the Massachusetts
border. Family members would share a viewing room with four people
there to support Mr. Ross and five news media witnesses allowed
to document the event with notepads and pens. Curtains would separate
Lan Manh Tu, whose younger sister Dzung
Ngoc Tu, 25, was raped and murdered by Mr. Ross in 1981, was traveling
to Connecticut from Maryland on Thursday for the execution. Mr.
Ross was never prosecuted for her murder, though he confessed
to it. Mr. Tu did not plan to witness the execution, but would
"I'd like to be somewhere in the vicinity
because I feel an obligation to my little sister and my family,"
On the rural two-lane road that runs past
the prison complex here, drivers beeped horns or shouted support
or disapproval as they passed clusters of correction officers
and state police officers. About 100 people gathered at Somers
Congregational Church nearby about 10 p.m. to pray and to listen
to speakers before marching to the prison.
"I'm not here because of Mr. Ross,"
said David Cruz-Uribe, 41, who teaches math at Trinity College
in Hartford. "He's not a nice person. I'm here because I
oppose the death penalty."
Lawyers argued in court as late as Thursday
afternoon. A motion filed by one of Mr. Ross's sisters claimed
his decision to be executed was involuntary because he suffered
from a combination of mental disorders and psychological coercion
after years of confinement. Another suit claimed that Mr. Ross's
"suicide" would "cause suicide contagion"
among other inmates. Both claims were rejected late in the day.
Mr. Ross's unlikely case pushed Connecticut
toward its 74th execution since it adopted capital punishment
in 1893. But it would be the first since the state electrocuted
a murderer named Joseph Taborsky in 1960.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Ross woke at 5:45
and "spent part of the morning watching television, reading
newspapers," said Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the State
Department of Correction.
By 8:10 a.m. he was moved to a holding
cell next to what correction officials call "the execution
enclosure." He took with him a Bible, a book of Bible verses,
a coffee cup and candy. He received communion from a prison chaplain
about 9 a.m. and received visits from his lawyer, friends and
family, speaking to them through holes in plexiglass.
About 3 p.m., he was served the last prison
meal of the day. "That happened to be turkey a la king with
rice, mixed vegetables, white bread, fruit and a beverage,"
Mr. Garnett said.
Julia Preston, in Manhattan, and Avi
Salzman, in Somers, Conn., contributed reporting for this article.