A Decision To Die

<B>Charlie Rose</B> Reports On Serial Killer Michael Ross

Last week, Correspondent Charlie Rose reported on serial killer and Connecticut death row inmate Michael Ross, who had waived all of his appeals to hasten his own execution.

In a videotaped interview with a psychiatrist, Ross explains his decision to die, after more than 20 years behind bars.

"I just believe it's the right thing to do," says Ross.

Public defenders in Connecticut worked to stop the execution, raising questions about Ross' mental competency. But his private attorney, T.R. Paulding, found himself in the unusual position of trying to facilitate his client's death.

"In a word, you're escorting him to the death chamber," says Rose.

"It's not something I ever envisioned doing," says Paulding. "And I've said to my wife, if I do a good job, Michael Ross dies."

But late last week, Paulding suddenly reversed course, under extraordinary pressure from a federal judge who cited new evidence questioning Ross' mental condition.

Paulding helped stop the execution just two hours before it would have taken place.

It has now been postponed indefinitely.

Jan. 26, 2005 Broadcast:

Convicted rapist and serial killer Michael Ross is sitting on Connecticut's death row.

If Ross had his way, he would have died Wednesday morning, making him the first person to be executed in Connecticut in 45 years. But with only 36 hours to spare, a judge stayed the execution.

"I'll be truthful. I don't want to grow old in prison. This is not a life to live. You know? This isn't a great life," says Ross, in a taped interview with a psychiatrist.

"I mean, the day they put me back there and kill me, that's not gonna be a real sad day for me. I'm gonna be leaving this. I've done 20 years of penance here, so it's not gonna be a sad day. But that's not why I'm doing this."

Ross claims that his decision to seek his execution is to spare the families of his victims more pain: "There's some of those family members who just want this over, you know?"

Ross began killing in 1981, when he was an undergraduate student at Cornell University. By the time he was arrested three years later, eight young women were dead. The murders were brutal.

"I know why I'm here. Every day, I wake up and I know why I'm here," says Ross. "There's no denying what I did was horrible," he says. "None whatsoever."

The judge ordered a mental competency exam, which was conducted by a court-appointed psychiatrist on videotape, because Ross wants to do something unusual. He wants to waive appeals that would prolong his life indefinitely.

"I know a lot of people don't understand. And a lot of people disagree," says Ross. "But I just believe it's the right thing to do."

His attorney, T.R. Paulding, found himself in the unusual position of facilitating his client's death. "It's not something I ever envisioned doing," says Paulding. "And I've said to my wife, 'If I do a good job, Michael Ross dies.'"

And that's just fine for some outspoken members of the victims' families.

"If he wishes to die, let him die. Because that's my wish," says Edwin Shelley, whose 14-year-old daughter Leslie was kidnapped and killed, along with her friend, April Brunais, on Easter Sunday in 1984, in Griswold, Conn.

Two months later, Ross raped and killed Wendy Baribeault, 17, and he was arrested shortly after. He ultimately confessed to eight murders.

Once in prison, Ross was diagnosed with mental illnesses – including "sexual sadism," a disorder characterized by sexual arousal from the "suffering of the victim." It can include "torture," "rape," "strangulation" and "killing."

"He basically can't control these urges that he has. He has described them as type of monsters or demons in his head that were constantly urging him to do these things," says Paulding.

Paulding took the case, even though he personally opposes the death penalty. "I felt that he had made a logical, rational decision," says Paulding. "He needed a voice in our court system. And so, therefore, I decided to -- attempt to help him through this process."

"He said the only reason he's doing this is he believes that as a defendant – that the lawyer's job is to represent the defendant's wishes," says Ross.

But is that the role of a defense attorney? To just simply do what the client wants?

"That's an interesting thing, when you put defense in front of the word 'attorney.' I think I'm an attorney before I'm a defense attorney," says Paulding. "Because obviously, as a criminal defense lawyer, your usual role is either to have your client found not guilty or to arrive at the best result you can arrive at. But I think your duty, your basic duty as an attorney, is to represent your client."

"I find it hard to believe that an attorney advocating for his client's death is necessarily in the client's best interest," says Gerard Smyth, the chief public defender for the State of Connecticut. His office represented Ross until last year, when he fired them because they refused to go along with his decision to die.

Despite this, they continue to work to stop his execution.

"Nothing that we're doing in any way is intended to diminish or minimize what he did or what the victims have suffered," says Smyth. "But we have a legal responsibility as a public defender agency for the State of Connecticut to attempt to bring to the court's attention all of the facts that exist, with regard to his mental competency."

Smyth is critical of this exam and the conclusions of the court-appointed psychiatrist who found Ross competent. The doctor wrote that Ross "has a clear and comprehensive understanding of his legal position," and is "fully aware" that his decisions "will lead to his execution."

The report confirmed Ross' mental illnesses and noted medication he takes for depression and anxiety.

"In my view, this medication is keeping me competent," says Ross. "If I wasn't taking anti-depressants, I would be clinically depressed probably, and that would be an issue of competency."

Ross is also treated with DepotLupron, which reduces his testosterone levels and diminishes his perverse, violent sexual urges.

But Smyth says there has been no real analysis of the effects of Ross' medication on his decision to waive his appeals: "We believe that without drugs, he would be in no position to do this. In fact, in the competency hearings, he testified and told the court that without the drugs, he didn't think he could follow this through."

Paulding, however, says: "A person can suffer from one or more mental illnesses, and that can have no affect on his ability to remain competent."

While he talked mostly about his mental state in the videotape, Ross also spoke a lot about his upcoming execution.

"I have always had nightmares of the execution night," he says. "The fact that there will be a whole mess of people out there cheering my death is not something I particularly relish."

"Michael, in this videotape, looks really intelligent. Rational, has made a decision," says Rose. "Does that videotape, to you, lie?"

"No, I think the videotape doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't tell some of the things that our own attorneys have observed," says Smyth. "Some of the internal struggles that he's going through."

Like what? "Over this decision," says Smyth. "Whether to go through with it or not."

In recent weeks, Smyth's office filed several unsuccessful motions up to the Connecticut Supreme Court, arguing that Ross was incompetent, and that they should represent him.

"Michael Ross is volunteering and wants to be found competent," says Smyth. "His attorney wants him to be found competent. The state wants him to be found competent. And to no one's surprise, the court found him competent."

"In other words, then, because you weren't there, no one stepped forward to say he's not competent," says Rose.

"That's correct," says Smyth.

Ross was scheduled to die Wednesday morning. But just 36 hours before his execution, the public defenders earned a stay of execution in federal court. On Tuesday, that stay was upheld.

"We asked for 30 days – that would be the ideal situation," says Smyth. "We're pleased to have the opportunity to proceed further."

Ross will have another competency hearing, but Paulding says it's all a diversion. "I think anyone that has been with Michael Ross for as long as they have, they absolutely know that he's competent," says Paulding. "There's no question."

So why is Ross doing this? "I think he's doing it because of his mental condition," says Smyth. "I think he's depressed and he's suicidal. I think he wants the state to assist him in committing suicide."

In fact, Ross has attempted suicide three times while in prison, most recently in 2003.

But in the videotape taken last month, Ross said that his decision now is not about state-assisted suicide.

"They say, for example, this is nothing less than state-assisted suicide. Mr. Ross wishes the state to execute him, to extinguish a life that he no longer wishes to live," says Ross. "I mean, that really makes me angry when I read stuff like that. It really makes me angry because they know that's not the issue, you know? That's not it. That's not what's going on here."

Ross says it's about the victims' families, and read a newspaper quote from one father: "You can live with it. Adjust to it. But when it's brought back up, it's agony. And you can keep that and quote that and put that in your damn report. Because I think that's frigging important. Sorry."

But public defenders say Ross' primary concern is not for the families. They point to a 1998 letter in which Ross wrote that he had been interested in "state-assisted suicide," that he wanted to "end my own pain," and that sparing the families more anguish was "icing on the cake."

"These are musings of Michael Ross. And the public needs to know that Mr. Ross has written numerous things," says Paulding. "And like anybody else who arrives at a complex and a difficult decision like this, he has gone through a thought process of questioning. Is my decision right? What is it based on? Am I really doing any good by making this decision?"

Paulding says he believes that Ross' decision is based on the victims' families: "There's no doubt in my mind that that is his primary motivation."

"We believe that the execution itself will not bring people the relief that they anticipate," says Smyth, who is personally opposed to the death penalty.

"You know what people say. 'This is all about public opposition to the death penalty. You do not want to see somebody executed in Connecticut after 45 years of no executions in New England,'" says Rose.

"I know people say that. And in fact, that's true," says Smyth. "But that is not the basis upon which we have instituted these efforts to save Michael Ross from the execution."

"What I'm hoping is that Jan. 26, I will be executed," says Ross.

But despite his hopes, the efforts of Connecticut's public defenders have temporarily derailed his decision to die.

"I just don't understand why the public defenders can't understand that," says Ross. "I mean, it's so simple. And it's my damned decision."