Decade in Review: Michael Ross was New England's first execution in 45 years

A group of Wesleyan University students join other anti-death penalty protesters at the gate of Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers in 2005 to protest the execution of Michael Ross.
A group of Wesleyan University students join other anti-death penalty protesters at the gate of Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers in 2005 to protest the execution of Michael Ross. Sean D. Elliot The Day Buy Photo

For more than 20 years, serial killer Michael Bruce Ross had strutted and preened on the public stage.

As he fought his death sentence, through appeal after appeal, the man who had raped and murdered eight young women and teenage girls wrote opinion pieces for The Day and posted "letters" on his Web site portraying himself as a martyr and decrying the immorality of capital punishment.

Finally, in May 2005, at 2:08 on the morning of Friday the 13th, the curtains of the death chamber at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers parted to reveal Ross, strapped to a table, clear plastic catheters rooted in the veins of each arm.

As 21 witnesses watched, Warden David Strange gave the signal to the executioner behind the two-way mirror to release the three-chemical cocktail that would stop Ross's heart.

At 2:13 a.m., the carotid artery in Ross's throat stopped pulsing.

At 2:25 a.m., as lividity set in, his face taking on the lifeless putty color of stone, Ross was pronounced dead.

New England's first execution in 45 years came 20 years, 10 months and 13 days after Ross's confession and arrest in Lisbon on June 28, 1984, and it seemed to satisfy no one.

Except, perhaps, for Ross. For his execution only happened because he wanted to die, dropping the remaining appeals available to him that could have prolonged his life another decade.

Several family members of the victims - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers - did not live to see Ross die. And those who did found his death "too peaceful" when they thought of the agonizing and terrifying final moments of their loved ones.

In the last days of Ross's life, some members of the General Assembly declared the death penalty "unworkable" and pushed for a bill to abolish it. That bill was voted down in the House.

Even Michael Malchik, the detective who had cracked the case, wondered aloud whether the 20 years of waiting for justice were worth it.

"Because it takes so long, many family members have died, and many others have lost faith in the system," he said. Every delay "was torture to them. ... If you can go 30 years before someone can be executed, then maybe we shouldn't have it."

Today, there are 11 men awaiting execution on Connecticut's death row.

One of the sad facts of the case is that while Ross's name was often in the headlines, the names of his victims were usually no more than a paragraph at the end of the story.

They were Wendy Baribeault, 17, of Lisbon; Leslie Shelley and April Brunais, both 14 and of Griswold; Robin Stavinsky, 19, of Norwich; Debra Smith Taylor, 23, of Griswold; Paula Perrera, 16, of Wallkill, N.Y.; Tammy Williams, 17, of Brooklyn; and Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25, of Washington, D.C.

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