Execution returns to liberal New England

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Public defenders in Connecticut are making a last-minute effort to save a man on Death Row from execution by lethal injection this weekend after a stay was set aside by the US Supreme Court on Thursday. It would be the first execution in liberal-leaning New England for 45 years.

A federal appeals court lifted one last restraining order on the execution last night but delayed issuing a formal decision to allow the defendant's father to make his last appeal.

The case of Michael Ross, 45, who has admitted killing eight women and girls in Connecticut and New York in the early 1980s, raping most of them, has drawn widespread attention, particularly from death penalty opponents. The northeast of the US is not normally associated with the capital punishment culture. Only two New England states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, have the death penalty, but it has not been implemented for decades.

Connecticut last put someone to death in 1960. In New Hampshire, no one has been killed by the state since 1939. The region stands in greatest contrast to Texas, which has executed 336 men and women since 1982, and has accounted for one-third of all executions in the US since 1976. The state has 446 on Death Row at present.

Late last year, Ross fired his public defenders, hoping to end their efforts to have his death sentence commuted. He said he no longer had the will to fight his impending execution.

In their place, he hired private lawyers charged with hastening his death. "I don't want to grow old in prison," he said last week. "This is not a life to live. You know? This isn't a great life."

Ross, who had just graduated from Cornell University when he was arrested in 1984, had campaigned heavily at first against the capital punishment and his convictions.

And public defenders in Connecticut have continued to fight his case without his permission. Last week, a state court issued a stay on his execution, which had been scheduled for Wednesday. But the stay was overturned by the US Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, a Connecticut judge issued a second restraining order after Ross's father, Dan, said the state had failed sufficiently to investigate the mental competency of his son. After the federal appeals court rejected the argument last night, Mr Ross had just hours to try the US Supreme Court again.

After overturning the first stay, the Supreme Court is seen as unlikely to shift position, making it likely the execution will go ahead, possibly tomorrow. The lawyer acting for Ross said he was looking forward to dying. "He is very firm and hoping that the execution will go forward," T R Paulding said.

Since firing the public defenders, Ross has become exasperated by the efforts to save him, pursued by the American Civil Liberties Union and his father.