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Appeals court halts Ross execution

State says it will appeal immediately to U.S. Supreme Court

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

Justice and Rights
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal appeals court Tuesday stayed the execution of convicted serial killer Michael Ross, who was slated to be Connecticut's first executed inmate in more than 40 years.

After hearing oral arguments for about an hour Tuesday afternoon, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld the decision of a lower court judge Monday to postpone the execution.

The state said it would appeal Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny in Hartford postponed the execution Monday, saying he wanted to hear more evidence. State prosecutors immediately appealed to the 2nd Circuit.

Unless the Supreme Court lifts the stay, the panel's ruling paves the way for another competency hearing in federal court, attorneys for both sides agreed.

Ross has said he wants the execution to take place, and insists he is competent to make that decision.

His father and the public defender want him ruled incompetent, so appeals may continue.

Ross' execution had been scheduled for 2 a.m. ET Wednesday but was moved back 24 hours to 2 a.m. Thursday due to the last-minute appeals.

After the appeals court ruling, the state Department of Corrections moved the date back another 24 hours, to Friday at 2 a.m.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who handles cases from the 2nd Circuit, could decide herself whether to lift the stay or refer the matter to the full court, which then could act.

Ross' attorney, T.R. Paulding, who did not argue before the appeals court, said his client "is adamant and resolute that he does not want this to be stayed. He does not want to see this delayed."

"He takes great offense at the claim to be incompetent," Paulding said.

Ross admits killing eight young women in Connecticut and New York between 1981 and 1984.

He was deemed competent last month by a doctor appointed by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Ross was sentenced to death in 1987. The execution has been delayed for years because of appeals, although Ross has said he does not want to fight his death sentence.

His father, Daniel, contends that his son is not competent to make that decision.

Paulding said last week that Ross "deplores" the public defender's moves on his behalf.

The public defender's legal standing to appeal on Ross' behalf is also a disputed question.

The appeals court indicated that if Ross is deemed competent, the defender would not have standing, known as "next friend" status, to pursue its appeal.

"If you cannot show at the hearing that Mr. Ross is incompetent, the case goes away," said Judge Robert Katzman during Tuesday's arguments.

Harry Weller, arguing for state prosecutors, said all the available evidence has been heard repeatedly before Connecticut courts.

Weller also took exception to the argument advanced by Connecticut public defenders who say Ross wants to die because he is "worn down" by oppressive prison conditions.

Wells said Ross, a college graduate who has had access to a prison library and legal materials, has "never filed a claim on his conditions of confinement."

Hubert Santos, arguing for the public defenders, said Ross' waiver of his rights was not valid due to harsh conditions at Connecticut's maximum security prison, Northern Correctional Center, where he spent most of the past decade confined to his cell 22 hours a day.

"The reason he wants to die is he can't stand the conditions at Northern," Santos said. Ross would "rather be dead than stay at Northern another 10 years while litigation continues," he said.

Ross is now being held at Osborn Prison.

Ross' victims were 14 to 25 when he strangled them to death. Ross admitting raping all but one of them first.

Six of his victims were from Connecticut. Ross received his death sentence in 1987 in the cases of four victims.

He testified last month that he wanted the state to go ahead with his execution. It would be the state's first since 1960.

Tuesday's ruling was issued by Katzman and Chief Judge Robert Sack, both in New York, and Judge Peter Hall, in Vermont, who heard the arguments via a video hookup.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick contributed to this story.

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