Following a flurry of 11th-hour appeals, serial killer Michael Ross was executed by lethal injection early today at the Connecticut state prison in Somers.
Ross, 45, who admitted that he murdered eight girls and young women in Connecticut and New York in the 1980s, became the first person executed in New England since 1960.
Ross, who had demanded to be put to death, received a lethal combination of three drugs as witnesses watched from an adjoining room at the Osborn Correctional Institution. Ross died at 2:25 a.m., prison officials said.
The witnesses included relatives of the victims, a priest, and a college classmate of Ross's. Outside the prison walls, an estimated 300 demonstrators, many of whom held candles and prayed, protested what they called ''state-assisted suicide." A few death-penalty supporters also gathered at the site.
Ross, a farm boy from Brooklyn, Conn., who graduated from Cornell University, waived his remaining appeals last year, fired his public defenders, and asked to be executed to spare the families of his victims the pain of further legal action.
Ross made no special request for his last meal, prison officials said, but ate the dinner served yesterday to all 18,000 inmates in the state prisons: turkey à la king, rice, mixed vegetables, and fruit.
He carried a Bible, a book of Bible verses, and candy when he was moved yesterday morning to a holding cell near the death chamber. Ross was visited by family, friends, and lawyers at various points during the day.
Detectives who arrested Ross in 1984 said they are convinced that he would have killed again if given the chance. Michael Malchik, the former State Police detective who took Ross's confession, called Ross a ''poster boy for the death penalty."
''It's going to be over," said Edwin Shelley of Griswold, the father of 14-year-old Leslie Shelley, who was murdered by Ross in 1984.
Yesterday, US District Judge Christopher F. Droney rejected separate attempts by Ross's father and estranged sister to block the execution. The rulings were appealed yesterday to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York and to the US Supreme Court, both of which rejected the challenges.
Ross's sister, Donna Dunham, argued that he was not competent to make the decision to forgo his appeals. The suit filed on behalf of Dan Ross, the prisoner's father, contended that an execution would cause a wave of suicide attempts among traumatized Connecticut prisoners.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the last-ditch lawsuits frivolous and said they ''seemed designed simply to derail or delay the criminal justice process, which should go forward to conclusion for the sake of all our citizens, most particularly the victims' families."
In a hearing before the state Supreme Court Wednesday, an affidavit submitted by Ross underscored his wish to be executed.
''I wish to make it clear that I do not authorize, endorse, concur in, or approve of any legal pleadings or petitions filed in any court anywhere in the time remaining between the execution of this affidavit and the moment of my execution unless they are filed by me or attorney T.R. Paulding Jr.," the affidavit read.
Ross was hours from death in January when Paulding, Ross's current lawyer, agreed to new hearings on Ross's mental competency. Paulding had been scolded by a federal judge, who threatened to revoke his law license for trying to hasten the execution.
At those hearings, two psychiatrists testified that Ross had a personality disorder that compelled him to choose death to avoid looking like a coward. Two other specialists disputed those findings and said he was sincerely remorseful. Based on those hearings, a judge last month again found Ross competent to decide his fate.
Before the execution this morning, protesters walked 30 miles to the prison from a Colonial gallows site in Hartford.
''Because the crimes of Michael Ross are so heinous, people often confuse us with being advocates for him," said Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. ''We are fighting against poor public policy, which is state-sponsored homicide."
Governor M. Jodi Rell decided in December not to grant Ross a reprieve that could have given lawmakers more time to debate the state's death penalty. By state law, the Connecticut governor cannot commute a death sentence.
In a January poll of Connecticut voters done by Quinnipiac University, 70 percent of those surveyed said they believed that Ross should be put to death. But only 59 percent said they favored the death penalty.
Over two decades in prison, Ross sought to parlay his criminal notoriety into celebrity status. He wrote articles for psychiatric journals and granted dozens of interviews. He distributed a newsletter from prison that detailed his incarceration and his views about the death penalty.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.