Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Bruce Ross: Staring Death in the Face

Truth and Consequences

Michael Ross under arrest
Michael Ross under arrest

Detective Michael Malchik, who worked on the Tammy Williams case, was assigned to chief investigator of Wendy's murder case. Malchik began his investigation by pursuing the car that witnesses claimed to have seen. Elliott said that Malchik printed out a list of 3,600 locally owned blue Toyotas which matched the description. Coincidentally, the first person on the list he visited on June 28, 1984 was Michael Ross. During the interview, Malchik immediately became suspicious of the young man.

Malchik described the visit as "a roller coaster ride" because every time he was about to leave the apartment, Michael would "drop him a crumb that would make him think that he should ask more questions," Elliott reported. Eventually, Michael couldn't withhold his ghastly secrets any longer and confessed to some of his crimes. Initially, he told Malchik only of Wendy Baribeault's murder but then later, while in police custody, he confessed to also killing April Brunais, Leslie Shelley, Tammy Williams, Deborah Taylor and Robin Stravinsky. It would be years before he would claim responsibility for killing Paula Perrera and Dzung Ngoc Tu.

Michael Ross being led from a police truck
Michael Ross being led from
a police truck

In July 1987, Michael went on trial for Deborah Taylor and Tammy Williams' murders. He pled guilty to their murders and received a maximum sentence of 120 years. The following month he was tried for the murders of Wendy Baribeault, April Brunais, Leslie Shelley and Robin Stravinsky and convicted. He received a total of two life sentences and six death sentences.

During and after the trials, Michael became angered because he felt that the judge and jury were biased and the testimonies of some of the witnesses were grossly inaccurate. Yet, probably his greatest source of irritation was that he felt the court failed to recognize his alleged mental illness. Michael suggested that this was most evident when the judge disallowed testimony by his psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Miller. The defense team claimed that had Dr. Miller been allowed to submit his testimony concerning Michael's psychological state, the jury would likely have been more lenient during the penalty phase. Moreover, his "mental illness" might have even been considered a mitigating factor, which could have spared him the death penalty altogether.

Gerard Smith, attorney
Gerard Smith, attorney

In protest, Michael filed a long list of complaints and petitioned the state for a new trial. After examining his case, the Judicial Review Council and the Statewide Grievance Committee dismissed his complaints, Elliott reported. However, Michael continued the appeals process and eventually his case was taken to the high court.

In July 1994, The Connecticut State Supreme Court decided to uphold Michael's murder convictions but overturned the death sentences, "finding that the original trial judge excluded evidence that might have helped Ross prove he suffered from a mental illness or defect," Richard Biegenwald reported in a 2000 Serial Killer Hit List article. As a result, the court ordered a new penalty hearing, which would be delayed for several years. In the meantime, Michael battled his psychological problems and courted death.

 

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