Thursday, December 16, 2004

Michael Ross, Governor Jodi Rell and Norman Patiss' Strange Delusion

Norman Pattis, a defense attorney in New Haven has weighed in on Governor Jodi Rell and the Michael Ross case.

What is it about the death penalty, other than its finality, that makes anti-death penalty proponents vacate their craniums when they begin to think about it?

“Michael Ross was sentenced to death almost two decades ago,” Pattis wrote in a recent op-ed column, “and his case has bounced through the court system for more than a decade.”

He almost got it right. The case has been dribbled through the court system by public defenders who, for twenty years after Ross had been prosecuted and found guilty of murdering four women, strung out the litigation through appeals over the objections of their client.

Ross, who murdered eight women, has said that he wants justice to be done, so that the suffering of the families of his victims may be finally resolved. This may be Ross’ finest hour in a life full of murderous deeds.

Ross, Pattis continues, “has declared a desire to end the fight, and his execution date has been set by judicial decree. On Jan. 26, we will kill him. We will pump his veins full of poison and watch him die. And we will call it justice.”

What would Pattis call the twenty years of litigation that will result in the execution of a sentence passed upon him by three juries?

Jumping off a rhetorical cliff, Pattis wrote, “It is not justice to kill a human being. It is simply killing. And killing accomplishes nothing but satisfaction of rage.

“The governor’s publicity stunt last week (Rell declined to reprieve Ross) announced to the world that this chief executive seeks a new distinction. Let me be the first to utter it aloud: Rell, murderer.”

Pattis, we are to understand, is not enraged at Rell for executing the laws of the state, the whole point of her office. And moral posturing has played no part in Pattis’ op-ed piece. Neither is he is confused for mistaking Rell rather than Ross for a murderer.

The upside of Pattis’ upside-down view of things is that, if Rell is a murderer, Pattis may be willing to go to some pains to see to it that she is spared the death penalty. Perhaps life in prison for Rell would still his rage.

And he is engorged with rage.

Pattis gives Rell an “A-plus in repulsive posturing.” The governor could have reprieved Ross but declined to do so because “she likes the death penalty.”

Rell said she had been moved by a letter written to her by Edwin Shelley, the father of the fourteen-year-old girl Ross had terrorized and murdered after having murdered her friend, April Brunias.

Mr. Shelley, who has been awaiting justice from the state of Connecticut for more than two decades, beseeched Rell not to intervene and wrote to her, “I last saw my daughter Leslie, on Easter Sunday of 1984, and since learning of her death, I have tried to experience the horror and fear she must have felt as her friend April was led away raped and murdered. I cannot begin to feel the feelings of helplessness as she lay tied in the back seat of his car or her fear when he came to get her; perhaps you may, I don't know.”

But we should put all this out of our minds. Rell is, in Pattis’ view, a cheap politician motivated by base political instincts, a woman without courage and – let us not forget – “a murderer.”

Attorney Pattis has had the distinction of having been the first to say it.

Let me be the first to say this about attorney Pattis: His passion for moral posturing has unhinged him, and one may wonder whether an attorney so confused ought to be practicing law. The op-ed piece Pattis wrote – a pointed political and toxic invective aimed at Rell – hopelessly confuses justice with vengeance.

If Pattis wants to understand the difference between vengeance and justice, he will have to think more deeply on the terror that raced like fire through the brain of Leslie Shelley when Ross strangled her and she heard him whisper, “I’m sorry.”

Ross’ eight murders were more vengeful than the twenty years of litigation he has endured.

It may be that Ross now is sorry, repentant enough to want to give to the families of his victims what is due them under the law.

To give to a man what is due to him under the law is the classic definition of justice -- always on the understanding that if the law itself is unjust, the law should be repealed by legislators; it should not be vacated by governors.

Shouldn’t someone provide the definition to Pattis?

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