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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January 2005, 16:21 GMT
The man who wants to be executed
By Chris Summers
BBC News

A US serial killer who raped and strangled eight women and girls has tired of Death Row and wants to be executed this week.

But with just days to go until his lethal injection, he has run into a legal obstacle: a federal judge issued a last-minute stay of execution on Monday night.

Michael Ross murdered the eight women - aged between 14 and 25 - in Connecticut and neighbouring New York in the early 1980s.

Michael Ross, who featured in BBC documentary The Mind of a Murderer in 2001
I owe these people. I owe them. I killed their daughters. If I could stop the pain, I have to do that
Michael Ross

He spent 17 years fighting against his execution.

But now the 45-year-old former university student has thrown in the towel and has actually hired a lawyer to ensure he does get executed this week.

Ross had been set to become the first man to be executed in the state of Connecticut for 45 years.

But on Monday District Judge Robert Chatigny said: "I have affidavits from serious people who tell me this man is not competent, even though he appears to be eminently rational."

The authorities have delayed the execution - originally set for Wednesday - to 0201am (0701GMT) on Thursday.

But further legal challenges are planned and the case could end up in the US Supreme Court.

Ross told a prison psychiatrist he hoped his death would ease the pain of his victims' families, adding: "I owe these people. I owe them. I killed their daughters. If I could stop the pain, I have to do that."

Pioneer 'volunteer'

About one in eight Death Row prisoners in the US are so-called "volunteers", people who have decided they would rather end their life than endure conditions behind bars.

One of the most famous was Gary Gilmore, who became the subject of The Executioner's Song, a Norman Mailer book and a film starring Tommy Lee Jones.

In January 1977, Gilmore, a career criminal who had been convicted of a spate of murders and robberies, was executed in Utah after he waived his right to appeal.

Gary Gilmore
Gary Gilmore was the first of the modern "volunteers"

Several human rights groups who are opposed in principle to executions have tried in recent days to stop Ross's execution.

The last person to be executed in Connecticut was Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky. He went to the electric chair in 1960.

Since then the state has replaced electrocution with lethal injection, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut believes it is a "cruel and inhumane" procedure.

ACLU-Connecticut's legal director, Annette Lamoreaux, said there were considerable doubts about the amount of pain suffered by prisoners during the lethal injection process.

May 1981: Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25
Jan 1982: Tammy Williams, 17
Mar 1982: Paula Perrera, 16
Jun 1982: Deborah Taylor, 23
Nov 1983: Robin Stavinsky, 19
Mar 1984: April Brunais and Leslie Shelley, both 14
Jun 1984: Wendy Baribeault, 17

Ms Lamoreaux said: "Our challenge is not to stop the execution. We just think that if you are going to execute him he needs to be executed in a way that is not a cruel and unusual punishment."

Ms Lamoreaux, who has considerable experience of death penalty cases in Texas, said Death Row conditions had worsened across the US in recent years with inmates usually kept isolated from each other and forbidden to work or enjoy any recreation.

'Assisted suicide'

She said: "One of the results of this is that when you look at people who have spent 15 years in that kind of condition it is understandable that they become depressed and suicidal. It is a manifestation of a kind of mental illness.

"So they say 'I want my life ended,' and the state says 'Sure, how can I help?'. It is a form of assisted suicide which should not be allowed."

A gurney in a death chamber in Texas
Critics say the lethal injection can cause excruciating pain
The ACLU is acting on behalf of Ross's father, Dan, who claims his son is not mentally competent to make the decision to end his own life. But it has been criticised by some of Ross's victims' relatives.

Edwin Shelley, whose daughter Leslie was one of Ross's victims, said: "Where were all these groups 21 years ago when these girls were murdered and raped?"

Ross's own attorney, TR Paulding, said the attempts to stop the execution had unsettled his client who was "trying to prepare himself mentally and emotionally" for death.

He said: "He is going to proceed as if this is happening. It's strange. On the one hand he is trying to deal with the reality that he's scheduled to be put to death, and on the other, the reality that some court may stop it."

Jennifer Tabor, the sister of one of Ross's victims, Robin Stavinsky, plans to watch the execution - and she is not pleased at the court's stay of execution.

She said: "We've been waiting for this for 21 years. To get so close and have it all taken away, it just makes you numb."

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