Courts should hear inmate’s death wish

Defense attorney T.R. Paulding opposes the death penalty, but he has spent the past year convincing the Supreme Court to execute his client as soon as possible. His client, Michael Bruce Ross, is a former

Defense attorney T.R. Paulding opposes the death penalty, but he has spent the past year convincing the Supreme Court to execute his client as soon as possible. His client, Michael Bruce Ross, is a former life insurance salesman who, by his own account, has killed eight females ages 14 to 25 in the early 1980s, raping most of them beforehand. By the time Ross earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Cornell University, he had already committed his first crime: strangling a classmate to death.

The Brooklyn, Conn., native was sentenced for four of the murders in 1987, and has been in a Connecticut state prison on death row for almost 20 years. The killer was labeled as a “volunteer” because he repeatedly expressed his desire to be executed. Ross believed his efforts would help the victims’ families heal and grieve.

Only two New England states have capital punishment: Connecticut and New Hampshire. They haven’t executed anyone since 1969 and 1930, respectively. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire do not allow capital punishment. New York, officially considered a Middle Atlantic state as opposed to a New England one, outlawed capital punishment last June.

An online poll has shown that even those who do not support the death penalty believe Ross should be executed simply because that was his wish. Paulding is one of those people and so am I. Enduring the bleak conditions of a solitary prison cell for almost two decades is mental anguish.

It forces the person to think about his or her crimes on a daily basis. When Ross confessed, he knew he would spend the rest of his life in prison. It seems logical he would want to make his time behind bars as short as possible. Yet his desire to die is a strange sign of remorse that many cannot understand.

Mental competency is one of the most important aspects of the case. Opponents of the execution believe Ross is not capable of making his own decisions. Some also see it as an ironic suicide attempt. While in prison, Ross took medication for depression, anxiety and a drug to lower his testosterone level.

He claimed to suffer from sexual sadism, which caused him to commit violent sexual acts. Part of his so-called remorse could have been a desire to escape from his medicated reality. Even so, inmates are just as human as the rest of society. Ross had a voice, and it should have been heard despite the controversial details.

Paulding, who has reiterated Ross’s mental capability, has been criticized by other lawyers for handling a death penalty case despite his opposition to the law. Yet Paulding says his goal is for Ross’s voice to be heard. An attorney who caters to the needs and wishes of a client should be praised, not criticized, regardless of the circumstances.

Last week the execution was delayed twice, with just hours to spare. Monday afternoon was no different. Connecticut officials delayed the execution indefinitely after Paulding filed motions claiming Ross suffers from death row syndrome, a psychological response to years of confinement, which can cause prisoners to become delusional, insane or suicidal. The conditions on death row were reiterated by the affidavits of a fellow inmate and a former guard at the facility, who attested the environment affected Ross’s judgment and his will to live. Ross will undergo psychiatric treatment in the coming months.

The old death warrant, which was issued in October, expired Monday night. The chief state’s attorney estimates it will take months – or maybe longer – to decide whether or not Ross will be executed.

A case such as this could instill fear into the hearts of lawyers across the country. Ross probably isn’t the first person who would have rather died than spent years on death row; especially in a state so liberal that death row should be called life imprisonment.

Only time will tell if other inmates will do the same, and if the courts will correctly hear voices that deserve to be heard.

Stephanie Young can be reached at

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