Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Bruce Ross: Staring Death in the Face

Death Pact

Michael spent the better part of four years working with state prosecutors to circumvent a new penalty hearing and secure an agreement to proceed directly to the death chamber. On March 11, 1998, Michael signed a 10-page "death pact" with state prosecutor C. Robert Satti acknowledging his crimes were cruel and heinous and pleading with the court to hasten his execution. However, a Superior Court judge decided to invalidate Michael's agreement with Satti, declaring that it was unconstitutional and "unsettling." The court further ruled that a new penalty hearing must be held, which was exactly what Michael wanted to avoid.

T.R. Paulding Jr., Ross' attorney
T.R. Paulding Jr., Ross'
attorney

The penalty phase retrial was scheduled to begin in April 1999 with the selection of the jury. Biegenwald said that that same month Michael allegedly had "a change of heart" and decided that he no longer wanted to be executed. His team of defense lawyers planned to revert to their original strategy, which was to prove that Michael's mental illness was in fact a mitigating factor that would make him ineligible for a death sentence. The prosecution team wanted to push for capital punishment and intended to "prove the existence of so-called aggravating factors," reported WTNH-News Channel 8 in Hartford, Connecticut. They would have a long wait before either side would be able to present their arguments.

Approximately 10 months after jury selection began and a great deal of legal wrangling, Michael's penalty hearing finally got under way. It took three days for the prosecution to present their case, which began with the testimony of the victim's relatives and police officers that investigated the murders and ended with a videotaped BBC interview of Michael discussing how his victims suffered. Their arguments were powerful, as was the testimony of the victim's families, making it an even more difficult challenge for the defense team to sway the jury.

Michael Ross
Michael Ross

The defense had their work cut out for them but they too were able to present a strong case. The jury listened to testimony from Michael's prison psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Kapuchinski, who stated that his client suffered from sexual sadism and that the symptoms were relieved by drug therapy. His statement supported the defenses contention that Michael's murder rampage was provoked by his mental illness.

Michael's father also took the stand and pled for his son's life. Daniel Ross said that "he felt it would be a mistake to execute Michael Ross" because "he is a biological specimen" that could ultimately provide valuable information into the psychopathology of a serial killer, WTNH reported in March 2000. Michael's aunt also testified on his behalf and asked that he be spared from the death penalty. Perhaps one of the most unexpected persons to take the stand in Michael's defense was Sam Reese Sheppard, the son of Dr. Sam Sheppard who was convicted of killing his mother in Ohio in 1954. A WTNH article said that during his testimony Sam openly opposed the death penalty and suggested that Michael would be of better use to science than he would be dead.

Leslie Shelley's parents
Leslie Shelley's parents

Yet, the defenses defining moment was when they introduced Dr. Miller's testimony, which was barred from Michael's original trial. In a letter written to the court 13-years earlier, Dr. Miller suggested that Michael's mental state was a mitigating factor, which he believed should play a role in the type of penalty that was handed down to his client. Following the induction of one of their most important pieces of evidence, the defense made their closing arguments then rested their case hoping that the jury would agree with Dr. Miller's conclusion.

After nine days of deliberation the Superior Court jury of nine men and three women finally reached a verdict. On April 6, 2000, Michael received once again the death penalty for the brutal murders of April Brunais, Wendy Baribault, Robin Stavinsky and Leslie Shelley. Diane Scarponi said in an April 2000 article that Michael, "stood impassively as the verdicts were read" whereas the families of the victims "wept or sat with bowed heads." It had taken the state a total of 16-years since Michael's arrest to secure a death sentence against him and they were determined to make it stick this time. If the state gets their way, Michael will be one of the first people to be executed in the state of Connecticut since 1960.

 

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