HARTFORD, Nov. 19 - At 2:01 a.m. on Jan. 26, corrections
workers in northern Connecticut are to begin administering
a fatal flow of chemicals into the bloodstream of Michael
The execution by lethal injection would be the culmination
of a two-decade case that began in 1984 when Mr. Ross
confessed to strangling six teenage girls and two young
women, four while he was a life insurance salesman in
eastern Connecticut, one while he was a student at Cornell
University. He has decided against further appeals of his
Beyond resurrecting the vicious details of the killings,
the pending execution is forcing a confrontation with a
discomforting fact for one of the country's most liberal
regions. It would be the first time in more than 40 years
that an inmate has been put to death north or east of
The death penalty does not exist in many states in the
Northeast, a region that has had its share of notorious
killers: from David Berkowitz, the New York City serial
killer of the 1970's known as the Son of Sam, to Charles
Cullen, the nurse who has confessed to poisoning at least
23 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But the last time
an inmate was executed in the Northeast was in 1963, when
New York electrocuted two men and New Jersey electrocuted
Within New England in particular, the death penalty can
seem like a relic. Connecticut, which has eight people on
death row, has not executed anyone since 1960. New
Hampshire, the only other New England state that has
capital punishment, has not executed anyone since 1939;
death row there is empty. The last man executed in Rhode
Island, the murderer John Gordon, was hanged in 1845.
"I have always thought of New England as the last
death-free zone in the United States," said Michael A.
Mello, a former capital defense lawyer in Florida, Texas
and other states and now a professor at Vermont Law School.
There have been 59 executions in the country so far this
year, 85 percent of them in the South, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty
The looming execution date for Mr. Ross, 45, is just
beginning to renew controversy over the death penalty here,
where the notion of a state execution can still evoke
images of 17th-century accusations of witchcraft and piracy
and the public hangings employed as punishment.
Adding ambiguity, Mr. Ross, who has twice appealed his
sentences and delayed his execution, now says that further
challenges would be futile.
Just as his crimes shocked rural eastern Connecticut two
decades ago, his decision to forgo his final appeal option
is unsettling, said Michael P. Lawlor, a Democrat from East
Haven who is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the
Connecticut General Assembly.
"One of the great ironies of this whole thing," Mr. Lawlor
said, "is that if he gets executed in January, the only
reason it's going to happen is because he wants it to
Neither judges nor most politicians in the Northeast are
pushing to speed executions.
In New York, the state's highest court declared in June
that the state's death penalty law was unconstitutional,
and lawmakers have been reluctant so far to try to revise
and restore it. In New Jersey, the state's highest court in
February effectively halted executions, ordering the state
to change its procedures for carrying them out. In
Massachusetts, which has not executed an inmate since 1947
and banned the death penalty in 1984, Gov. Mitt Romney, a
Republican, has pushed for a new state death penalty
measure but the Democratic Legislature has not passed it.
Last year, however, a death sentence was imposed in a
federal trial in Boston. Gary Sampson, the defendant in
that case, killed two men who picked him up separately
while he hitchhiked in July 2001. Mr. Sampson was charged
under a federal law that allows capital punishment when a
killing is committed during a carjacking.
In Mr. Ross's case, even as activists and lawyers opposed
to the death penalty try to find a way to stay or delay the
execution, some experts - including some opposed to the
death penalty - believe that Mr. Ross will die as
scheduled, at the Osborn Correctional Institution in
Somers, near the Massachusetts line.
"I think this execution is going to happen," said Professor
Mello, "because he has the right to determine his own
destiny. Because lawyers can come up with clever reasons
and arguments, but ultimately, Ross has the law on his
Opponents of the death penalty are planning a public
awareness campaign in the coming weeks, and say that
religious leaders will speak out against the execution.
Some death penalty experts, like Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center, say that
Connecticut residents may not even know that capital
punishment is an option here.
"I think as people realize this is the first in the area in
many, many years,'' he said, "it will wake people up to the
fact that, yes, we do have the death penalty in some of
But even as the case generates new interest and new
protests, some people who have been close to it for two
decades say they have already waited too long for Mr. Ross
"This guy is a poster boy for the death penalty," said
Michael Malchik, the former Connecticut State Police
detective who arrested Mr. Ross in 1984, after the body of
his last victim was found hidden inside a stone wall
bordering a field. "He deserves no sympathy from anyone. I
think the problem is that the people who are against it
have never seen the other side of it. They've never smelled
it, looked at it, felt the weight of a dead body in a body
The depravity of Mr. Ross's crimes, the number of them, as
well as his apparent willingness to enter the execution
chamber, complicate the efforts of death penalty opponents
seeking a platform to repeal the state's capital punishment
"We have it on pretty good word from the powers that be
that nobody's going to touch this," said Robert Nave,
director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death
Penalty. "Of all the people up on death row, without a
doubt the most infamous is Michael Ross."
Connecticut's governor, M. Jodi Rell, a Republican,
supports the death penalty. Dennis Schain, a spokesman for
Mrs. Rell, said her powers were limited to granting a
temporary reprieve. Asked whether Mrs. Rell would consider
such a reprieve, Mr. Schain said, "That depends on whether
or not the Legislature has an interest in changing the law,
and to date there's been no discussion of this."
After graduating from Cornell, in upstate New York, Mr.
Ross moved to Jewett City, north of Norwich, Conn., and
became a life insurance salesman for Prudential. He had
grown up on his parents' egg farm in Brooklyn, Conn., a
tiny spot in the state's rural northeast. Mr. Malchik, the
former detective, said Mr. Ross told him that as a boy he
had to strangle under-producing chickens on the farm.
"He said, 'You know, strangling someone is not as easy as
it looks on TV,' " Mr. Malchik recalled. " 'I had to
reapply my grip to finish them off.' "
Mr. Ross confessed to eight murders, six cases in
Connecticut and two in New York, and he was sentenced to
death for four of them. In the death penalty cases, he
raped three of the victims before strangling them. In one
case, he raped and strangled a 14-year-old girl while her
14-year-old friend, whom Mr. Ross had bound, was present.
He then strangled the second girl.
Mr. Malchik said Mr. Ross had told him he expected to be
caught eventually. Mr. Malchik recalled how he and his
partner drove the "casual, cooperative" Mr. Ross to the
crime scenes to have him explain what happened.
"We have dozens and dozens of pictures of him just pointing
to different spots where he did different things to
different women," Mr. Malchik said. "He wasn't handcuffed
or anything. We just took him around."
Mr. Ross fought his death sentence twice, first winning a
retrial of the sentencing phase only to be sentenced to
death a second time, in 2000. He appealed the second death
sentence to the State Supreme Court and lost earlier this
At one point in the 1990's, Mr. Ross tried to enter an
agreement with the state to be executed, saying then what
he says now, that he did not want to cause more pain for
the families of his victims. A judge rejected the
"He really, truly and sincerely, and this is what the
public I don't think buys, he doesn't want to put the
families through any more of this," said T. R. Paulding, a
lawyer who represents Mr. Ross, though not as his defense
Mr. Malchik, for one, does not believe him.
"First of all, it's been 20 years," he said. "Why now,
after 20 years? What did he do, wake up a couple of months
ago and say, 'I think I want to do away with my appeals'? I
think he's manipulative. He loves publicity."
Mr. Paulding stressed that while Mr. Ross opposes
execution, he feels that further appeals, even to the
United States Supreme Court, would not overturn his
sentence. "He doesn't think there's any way he'll get out
without death," Mr. Paulding said.
Mr. Ross professes discovery of a deep Christian faith
since his arrest and has posted essays on the subject on
the Internet. He takes a medication, Depo-Lupron; Mr.
Paulding said the drug reduced the symptoms of sexual
sadism, a psychiatric disorder that some think is rooted in
childhood trauma, and a condition that Mr. Ross has long
claimed caused his criminal behavior.
"In his words, it kind of clears the demons or monsters out
of his head," Mr. Paulding said. "You know, if you and I
were sitting in a room having coffee with him, we'd think
he was just a normal guy. Of course, a lot of people would
disagree with that.''