New England Sees Its First Execution in Nearly 50 Years

Times Staff Writer

Serial killer Michael Bruce Ross was put to death by lethal injection early Friday in Somers, Conn. It was the first execution in New England in almost 50 years.

Ross, 45, had abandoned all appeals, insisting that he deserved to die for the murders of eight young women in New York and Connecticut in the 1980s. He was pronounced dead at 2:25 a.m.

His lawyer, T.R. Paulding Jr., told a news conference at the prison: “In the end, Mr. Ross maintained his dignity as he sought to do what was right.”

But some relatives of Ross’ victims said they gained no comfort from witnessing his death.


“I thought I would feel closure, but I felt anger, just watching him lay there,” said Debbie Dupuis. Her sister, Robin Stavinsky, was 19 when Ross killed her.

The Ross case helped reignite debate about the death penalty in New England, where most states lack even a facility to carry out capital punishment. In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has gained support for a proposal he introduced last month to reinstate the death penalty, using what he called a “no doubt” standard of proof.

On an unseasonably cold night Thursday, hundreds of death penalty foes staged a vigil outside the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers. Among them was Bud Welch, who traveled from Oklahoma. Welch, whose daughter was killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, said the execution of convicted bomber Timothy J. McVeigh brought him no peace.

Some marched 30 miles from Hartford to protest the execution.


But Ross wanted no role in the effort against capital punishment. He fired the public defenders who sought to lessen his sentence and hired Paulding. As early as 1994, Ross stated that he did not want to subject himself or the families of his victims to the grisly details that would emerge if the case was reopened.

Ross, a Cornell University graduate who became an insurance agent, turned into a prison celebrity of sorts as he wrote psychiatric journal articles, conducted interviews and expounded on the death penalty.

In 1985, he was sentenced to two life terms after confessing to two of the murders. He was sentenced in 1987 to six separate death sentences for six other murders. In 1994, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned those sentences because a key psychiatric report had been excluded from the sentencing proceedings.

In 1998, Ross acted as his own attorney when he signed a 10-page agreement promising not to oppose a death sentence. Months later, a judge threw out the agreement. At a hearing three years later, Ross again received six death sentences.


His father and sister appealed the sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were rebuffed. In a final appeal last week, Ross’ sister, Donna Dunham, argued that his execution would produce a flurry of suicides among other Connecticut prisoners.

Ross was hours from execution in January when a judge ordered hearings on his mental competency. Two psychiatrists said he suffered from a personality disorder and was seeking the death penalty to attract attention. Two others said Ross believed he deserved to die. A judge ruled him competent.

In an affidavit submitted Wednesday to the state Supreme Court, Ross reiterated his position: “I wish to make it clear that I do not authorize, endorse, concur in, or approve of any legal pleadings or petitions filed in any court anywhere in the time remaining between the execution of this document and the moment of my execution.”

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell had refused in December to block Ross’ execution. In a statement issued by her office early Friday, Rell said: “Michael Ross alone is responsible for his fate. He alone committed these despicable crimes, and he alone is responsible for the consequences of those actions.”


Following prison protocol, a guard asked “Inmate Ross” if he wished to make a final statement shortly before his death. Ross, prison officials said, replied: “No, thank you.”


Material from Associated Press and the Hartford Courant was used in this report.