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Showing posts from January, 2005

Gaming the System: How to Escape the Death Penalty, Michael Ross

Cecily says to Algernon in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Ernest," I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.

The same cannot be said of Michael Ross, who claims that he has abandoned future appeals to spare the family members of his victims more agony. It is difficult to believe anything good of a man who is capable of strangling and raping all but one of his eight victims. It is much easier to believe that Ross is evil or crazy or manipulative -- and merely pretending to be good.

Ross, in other words, is either crazy as a fox or just plain crazy.

Proponents of the death penalty for heinous crimes -- which is to say, Connecticut's legislature and, according to polls, a majority of people living in the state -- believe that Ross was fully competent when he decided to forgo appeals and accept his death sentence. Such people do not believe that one need be a monster to commit monstrous crimes. Accord…

Judge Chatigny's Hissy Fit, Michael Ross

On Jan 29, those who were to witness the death by lethal injection of serial killer Michael Ross were told that the execution of Ross had been postponed due to “a potential conflict of interest.” The nature of the conflict of interest was not described, but it seemed to have something to do with Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny's hissy fit.

A day earlier, Ross’ former public defenders, understandably dejected by a U.S. Supreme Court’s order lifting a stay of execution earlier imposed by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny, told Connecticut’s news media that they had exhausted their legal resources.

Chatigny had issued two stays of execution that in effect set aside previous decisions made by Judge Christopher Droney, Chatigny’s peer on the court, and Connecticut’s Supreme Court. Chatigny’s ruling, had it passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, would have required a new hearing during which new testimony concerning Ross’ mental impairment would have been introduce…

The Ross Case, A New Twist

The recent decision by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny giving Ross’ discharged lawyers an opportunity to mount a new defense showing that their former client is mentally incompetent has lengthened the distance between Ross and the death chamber.

Much like the man who murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan, Ross’ former defense counsel intends a novel plea.

With the help of a psychiatrist who has not examined Ross – and who may be writing a book expounding his piquant theories -- they will argue that Ross has been made incompetent by his long stay in the death house. The prospect of execution, Samuel Johnson once said, clears the mind wonderfully. It is Dr. Stuart Grassian’s considered opinion that it drives men nuts. Grassian is a psychiatrist who has studied inmates' psychopathological reactions to solitary confinement.

Trials are legal instruments designed to affix guilt and punishment. Ross’ very first jury rejected claims b…

Boxing Rice

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State designate Condoleezza Rice said that the South Asia tsunami disaster was “a wonderful opportunity” to show how the U.S. government and its people could respond compassionately to a tragedy.

A surly Senator Boxer of California responded, “The tsunami was one of the worse tragedies of our lifetime, and its going to have ten year impact on rebuilding that area. I was very disappointed in your statement. I think you blew the opportunity.”

Inquiring minds want to know: What was it exactly that disappointed Boxer?

Certainly Rice did not say that the tsunami was wonderful. Far from it; she clearly said it was a tragedy, and tragedies are by definition unpleasant and less than wonderful.

If Rice had pruned the adjective “wonderful” and said the tsunami tragedy presented “an opportunity” for the U.S. to display its compassion, she would have been repeating a remark made by countless Democrats and political comm…

Michael Ross and His Defenders

Michael Ross’ father says that his son views himself as the director of a play; what is about to happen to him is bathed in unreality.

That’s probably a sound assessment, but Ross’ attitude toward his death need not be viewed as an indication of insanity or incompetence. Shakespeare says we are all bit players, strutting our hour upon the stage. We all deal with unknown circumstances by imagining them. Our imaginations are our private theaters where we view and test the possibilities that life presents to us.

Neither should Ross’ sense of frustration be viewed as unreasonable. However successful Ross’ discharged public defenders have been in postponing the inevitable, the end of the play Ross is supposedly directing will arrive in due course. Knowing this, it is not at all unreasonable that Ross, both the principal protagonist of the piece and its putative director, has become weary with his appeals process.

Ross has said that one of his motivations in refusing further appeals is to b…

Ethics Reform and Window Dressing

The precipitating cause behind attempts by Democrats and Republicans to reform ethics in Connecticut is, ironically, former Gov. John G. Rowland. One wag has suggested that when Rowland’s name is removed from a public building at UConn, it should be re-attached to Gov. Jodi Rell’s ethics legislation.

At the end of December Rowland pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy "to deprive Connecticut citizens of the honest services of its officials." Rowland confessed to taking more than $100,000 in gifts and favors from two Connecticut companies.

The scale of corruption within the Rowland administration, corresponding to the scale of the investigations the corruption unleashed, certainly is unusual. But the contributing causes are no strangers to politics watchers.

Within the living memory of most Connecticut journalists, lobbyists have frequently made political contributions to politicians whose initiatives might have been helpful to their clients, and contractors doing business wi…

The Politics of Congeniality

U.S. Rep Chris Shays, R-4th District, had his hair tousled in his recently concluded election with Westport First Selectwoman Dianne Farrell – which Shays won by a whisker.

U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, was less than flattering to Shays during the campaign, and when Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and DeLauro’s gal pal, said of Shays that he was “a rubber stamp for the radical right wing check-your-brain-at-the-door congressperson,” DeLauro did not demur.

“This was the first year you really saw Democratic members go after other members,” said Shays.

Apparently, the verbal bludgeons hit Shays upside his head: Even now, a month after the election, the genial congressman feels the shock and awe of it.

Said Shays, “It was awkward.”

Connecticut’s reporters and commentators, visibly shaken at the incivility of recent campaigns, are wondering whether the usual collegial comity that holds sway in Connecticut’s congressional delegation will survive such partisan slights.


Famine, Lies, Justice and Ukraine

Stalin, "What we did during the last 30 days was a tribute to our ancestors. I know they are looking at us from heaven and they are applauding." -- Viktor Yushchenko

Several years ago, I was contacted by a Ukrainian in New Britain, Connecticut who wanted to send me a film on the 1932-33 famine in that country. He asked me to view the film and let him know if I could think of any reason why it should not be shown in the United States. The film, "Harvest of Despair," had been widely shown in Canada. That was my first exposure to the greatest man made disaster ever recorded, and the first time in history that famine on such a scale was used as an instrument of war and oppression.

I was stunned by "Harvest of Despair." The film contained footage of both the famine in 1932-33 and an earlier famine that had been stopped in its tracks by Lenin, who had imported food into the stricken areas. The 32-33 famine -- the Ukrainians call it the Holodomor, roughly trans…