Judge further delays execution

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by Michelle Tuccitto
The New Haven Register

January 27, 2005

As the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday considered whether to lift a stay blocking serial killer Michael Ross’ execution, a federal judge issued a restraining order preventing the execution for at least 10 days.

The chief state’s attorney’s office filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the stay — which would allow the state to proceed with its first execution in 45 years.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny, who ordered the stay earlier this week, issued a temporary 10-day restraining order Wednesday preventing the state from executing Ross until a competency hearing is held.

The restraining order came in a civil rights case brought by Ross’ father, Dan Ross, seeking to protect his own constitutional right to familial association with his son.

The Supreme Court hadn’t issued a decision as of late Wednesday.

"Every state court that has examined the issue has determined that Ross is competent to choose to forgo further appeals," prosecutors wrote in a 36-page argument to the nation’s highest court. "The stay should be vacated."

Ross, who admits killing eight women in Connecticut and New York, was originally scheduled to die Wednesday. If the U.S. Supreme Court vacates the stay, the execution can proceed.

The prosecutors’ application was to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who may refer the case to the full court.

According to prosecutors, Ross’ right to decide his own fate, choose his own counsel and not have litigation foisted on him are at stake.

The public defenders’ office filed a reply with the court Wednesday evening.

"I’m optimistic that they will uphold the stay," said Chief Public Defender Gerard Smyth.

If it is upheld, public defenders will have a chance to try to prove Ross isn’t competent to forgo further appeals.

They’ll go back to Chatigny to schedule a competency review.

Dan Ross’ attorney, Antonio Ponvert of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder in Bridgeport, said the father talked with his son about the new lawsuit and "told Michael that he would do everything in his power to keep him alive."

While Michael Ross didn’t support the suit, Ponvert said, he understood "that’s what a father would do."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed Chatigny’s decision to stay the execution, pending a full hearing on Ross’ competency. Prosecutors on Wednesday were appealing that ruling.

Attorney Michael Fitzpatrick, a Bridgeport-based lawyer who once represented Ross, said he believes it is highly unlikely the Supreme Court will take the case and reverse the decisions of the lower courts.

"The 2nd Circuit said the record is incomplete," said Fitzpatrick, who is also president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "If they don’t have an adequate record to review, there is no way the Supreme Court will review it." Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, based in Georgia, years ago had a client’s stay overturned by the Supreme Court. John Evans, who was on death row for an Alabama murder, was executed.

"I would not be surprised if they did vacate the stay," said Bright, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. "This court has been very activist in that regard."

Steven Duke, professor of law at Yale, however, said it is normally a long shot for the U.S. Supreme Court to summarily reverse a decision of the Court of Appeals.

"They have done it in the past, but I think it is unlikely," Duke said.

John Allen of Columbia, whose daughter went to school with one of Ross’ victims, Robin Stavinsky, has mixed feelings about the case.

"In one way, I wouldn’t like to see him executed, because I think a lifetime in jail is more cruel," Allen said. "His cruelty to those girls was such that he should suffer. …

"They should limit the number of appeals and the number of groups that can appeal. Then, take care of it and save taxpayers’ money."