Michael Ross, the former insurance salesman who killed eight Connecticut women in the 1980s, has pulled the plug on an appeals process that had dragged on for nearly 20 years. He is “ready to die,” he says, putting state officials in the unpleasant position of having to implement the death penalty, something that has existed only in the abstract for the last 40 years. On Jan. 26, however, barring a legal surprise or a legislative miracle, the Connecticut death penalty will again become a reality. And that has more than a few people in this blue-state bastion of liberalism very nervous indeed.

Since a New London judge set an execution date in early October, the Michael Ross story has played out in the courtrooms and in the headlines: “CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED TO STOP ROSS EXECUTION;” “ROSS TO RELL: KEEP OUT OF IT … KILLER ASKS GOVERNOR NOT TO USE POWER OF REPRIEVE;” “DEFENDERS ORDERED OUT OF ROSS CASE.”

As the execution date nears, scarcely a day passes without Michael Ross’ name in the newspapers or his face in the local news. NPR’s Morning Edition had a Michael Ross segment in mid-December. Even the New York Times featured the story — on the Sunday front page, no less. Despite the heavy reporting output, however, the larger questions bubbling up from under the Michael Ross story remain unanswered: Why does Michael Ross want to die? Will the state go ahead with the execution? Should it? And, most significant of all, what does this all mean for capital punishment in Connecticut? As Bertolt Brecht wrote, “So many reports, so many questions.”

In 1983, Connecticut State detectives began tracking a serial killer after the raped and strangled bodies of young women, ages 14 to 23, turned up in the eastern part of the state. In June of 1984, the investigation led to a skinny, bespectacled insurance salesman named Michael Ross. After four hours of interrogation, the calm, cooperative 25-year-old confessed and was charged with six counts of capital murder. Two of the murders had been committed in the Windham judicial district, where Ross pleaded to life without parole. Years later, he would also plead guilty and receive life sentences in New York State for murdering two women while he was a student at Cornell. But in New London, which had jurisdiction over four of the six Connecticut murders, State Attorney Robert Satti wanted the death penalty.

Satti was hardly alone. To many, Ross epitomizes the kind of cold-blooded killer for whom capital punishment was intended. His crimes were heinous. He raped seven of his eight victims, and only spared the eighth because he had just raped her best friend before he killed them both. He was calculating: in every instance, he would ask the each girl to lie on her stomach so he could tie her up — only to strangle her instead. Moreover, mitigating factors that sometimes affect capital cases — ethnic and economic disparities, youth, mental retardation, questions of innocence — did not apply to the white, 25-year-old Cornell alumnus whose guilt was without question. In the words of Michael Malchik, the Connecticut state detective who finally tracked Ross down in 1983, “Michael Ross is the poster-boy for the death penalty.”

At the penalty phase of the trial, Ross’ attorneys had to rely on shaky arguments to try to save their client’s life. Without going so far as to claim Ross was legally insane, the public defenders sought to prove that he suffered from sexual sadism, a rare deviance that they said significantly impaired his ability to control his actions. Yet sexual sadism is difficult to convincingly establish as a mitigating factor. Dr. Vladamir Coric, a forensic psychiatrist with the Yale Medical School’s Division of Law and Psychiatry, says “it can often be difficult to determine what component of [someone’s] behavior is under volitional control and what component of [someone’s] behavior may be impaired by an underlying mental illness.” Because sexual deviants are often prone to lie about their arousal patterns to escape legal punishment, it is often easy to poke holes in their claims.

Prosecutors did precisely that at Ross’ trial, dismissing his sexual sadism argument as the legal ploy of a manipulative murderer to escape the death penalty. “After he sat down with his lawyers for six months, he came up with all kinds of 10-dollar words,” Malchik said. Besides, prosecutors argued, even if he was a sexual sadist, that didn’t diminish his legal and moral culpability. “No way does the fact that a man is a sexual sadist say it’s all right for him to go out and pick up little girls, rape them and kill them,” Satti stated in his closing arguments. The jury agreed with him, and sentenced Michael Ross to death.

Ross’ 1987 death sentence is hardly where the story ends. Indeed, it is closer to where it begins. In 1994, the Connecticut Supreme Court found the trial judge had improperly excluded evidence on Ross’ mental state and ordered a new penalty phase. It took six years before a second jury sentenced Ross to death, and it was not until just last June that the State Supreme Court upheld the death sentence. But before moving forward too quickly with Michael Ross, it is necessary to take a step back to the political and legal contexts in which Ross’ crimes and courtroom battles emerged.

On May 17, 1960, Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky died in the electric chair at the Connecticut State Prison in Wethersfield. The state has not executed anyone since. A two-bit gangster, Taborsky fatally shot seven liquor store clerks and gas station attendants on a killing spree in the 1950s. Unlike his partner, Arthur Columbe, who was granted a federal stay of execution, Taborsky declined to pursue federal appeals. Like Ross, he said he was “ready to die” and the state of Connecticut obliged.

Taborsky’s execution, the Connecticut’s sixth since 1955, was not major news at the time; the New Haven Register buried the story on page 19. Over the following decades, however, capital punishment became a source of controversy in the courts and legislatures across the country. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court imposed a national moratorium on capital punishment with Furman v. Georgia. Four years later, in Gregg v. Georgia, the High Court approved revised capital punishment laws in Florida, Georgia and Texas, creating a legal space within which capital punishment could constitutionally continue in the United States, and spurring Connecticut legislators to begin drafting a new law.

In 1980, Connecticut enacted one of the nation’s most restrictive death penalty laws. Todd Fernow, a professor at the University of Connecticut Law School, says, “Our legislature took very seriously the admonitions of the United States Supreme Court to craft a very narrowly tailored death penalty.” To obtain a death sentence, the law stated, a jury had to conclude that a murder was premeditated, involved an aggravating factor, and then determine that no mitigating factors existed. In terms of the extensive limits it placed on the death penalty’s application, Connecticut’s law was unique. As Fernow puts it, “I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in the country.”

As crime rates shot up nationwide during the 1980s, though, Connecticut conservatives began denouncing the state’s death penalty law as unworkable. “Republicans began pushing [the death penalty] as a wedge issue,” remembered state Representative Mike Lawlor, who joined the Assembly as an anti-death penalty Democrat. “People were hysterical about crime.”

The horrific nature of the Ross case stoked public fears in Connecticut, generating pressure for a less restrictive death penalty law in the late 1980s. Still, institutional resistance to the death penalty persisted. Several times legislators proposed strengthened death penalty laws, only to see them scuttled in a judiciary committee controlled by anti-death penalty Democrats. Then in 1987, a bill allowing juries to weigh aggravating factors against mitigating ones in deciding whether to impose the death penalty passed the Connecticut General Assembly, but it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. William O’Neill. The legislature tried periodically to revive the measure and in 1991 sent legislation nearly identical to the 1987 bill to the desk of Gov. Lowell Weicker, an independent. He also vetoed it.

After Ross’ trial, however, juries suddenly became more willing to sentence other defendants to death, even without a more hard-line death penalty law. Robert Breton was sentenced to death in 1989 for murdering his ex-wife and son; Sedrick Cobb, in 1991, for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Waterbury woman; Daniel Webb, also in 1991, for the kidnapping and murder of a Connecticut National Bank vice president; Terry Johnson, in 1993, for murdering a state police officer (this sentence was later reduced to life in prison); and Richard Reynolds, a Brooklyn-based crack dealer, in 1995, for killing a Waterbury police officer.

If these death sentences proved that the death penalty was at least possible to impose under Connecticut law, they neither silenced nor satisfied the “tough-on-crime” political crowd, who continued to push for a more aggressive law. In 1995 they got it, as Gov. John Rowland signed a law which eased capital constraints in Connecticut for the first time since the Gregg decision. The bill, like its aborted predecessors, required juries to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors against one another. The law also eliminated the requirement that the Connecticut Supreme Court automatically reverse death sentences it finds disproportionate to the nature of the crimes.

Juries have imposed five more death sentences since the 1995 law was enacted. Todd Rizzo, sentenced in 1999 for beating a 13-year-old boy to death with a three-pound sledge hammer; Ivo Colon, in 2000, for fatally smashing the skull of his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter; Robert Courchnesne, in 2003, for the murder of Demetris Rodgers and her unborn baby over a $410 drug debt; and Eduardo Santiago, last August, for the contract murder of a landscaper in exchange for a broken snowmobile. Two of these sentences — Rizzo’s and Santiago’s — were reversed by the State Supreme Court.

In addition to Michael Ross, then, there are currently seven men on death row at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Conn. Some, such as Daniel Webb and Sedrick Cobb, are farther along in the appeals process than Ross had been before he elected to stop appealing. Yet none of the seven are within years of an execution, even under the State’s Attorney’s Office’s best-case scenario. All that sets Ross apart from his death row companions is his refusal to pursue further appeals. If Ross is executed on Jan. 26, then, it would beg the question of whether Connecticut actually executes only those killers who are willing to die — an unnerving prospect, both legally and morally.

“Michael Ross is calling the shots on this, and that makes no sense,” says Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. “We are letting a man who is a multiple murderer, who has shown a great disregard for life, to commit state-assisted suicide in our name.”

The CNADP is the vanguard of the anti-death penalty movement that has coalesced since October. In just his second year with the CNADP, Nave has been thrust into the political arena as the mouthpiece for abolitionism in Connecticut. “This is great because we have the public eye,” he admits, adding that he wished they could have had the publicity without the state’s first execution in nearly 45 years looming over him.

“It’s the best of times and the worst of times,” he said. “But this is our moment and I believe we have to capitalize on it. It’s amazing to see the public mobilized.”

For a time, the political wheels seemed to be turning in the abolitionist forces’ favor. In November, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican who supports the death penalty, appeared poised to use her constitutional authority to delay Ross’ execution until the next legislative session. Asked by the New York Times whether Rell would issue such a reprieve, her communications director, Dennis Schain, said, “That depends on whether or not the legislature has an interest in changing the law.” Lawlor and other anti-death penalty leaders made it clear that the issue would be “seriously taken up,” if that was what Rell wanted. Recognizing that they probably didn’t have the votes for abolition, Lawlor remained hopeful they could send a lesser measure, such as a moratorium, to the governor’s desk.

On Dec. 6, however, Rell quickly shattered such optimism.

“As I weighed my decision I thought of the young, vibrant girls who died brutal deaths at the hands of Michael Ross,” Rell said. “And I admit I thought of my own daughter more than a few times … Michael Ross admitted to heinously raping and strangling eight young women. Eight young women who left behind families that still grieve, families that suffer, families whose hearts are broken anew every time Michael Ross’ name is uttered and his crimes are revisited.”

After weeks of hiding her cards, the governor finally announced her position: not only would she not grant Michael Ross a temporary reprieve, but she would veto any bill that repealed the death penalty. “I do believe there are crimes and actions which are so repugnant in society as to warrant the death penalty. And this is such a case,” Rell said.

Death penalty opponents were not happy. Days later, Nave and the CNADP organized a rain-soaked rally of about 100 demonstrators in Hartford to protest Rell’s “emotion-based decision.” Teresa Younger, the executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, says she was “disappointed [that] Gov. Rell let her personal views get in the way” of an important public policy issue. “The governor has a responsibility to encourage discussion to take place about this policy, instead of trying to squelch it.”

Some accused Rell of playing politics. “I think obviously what happened was that she started getting a lot of pressure from political people close to her to look decisive,” says Lawlor. “She’s trying to avoid criticism that she was soft on the death penalty.” Asked if he thought Rell’s decision was politically-motivated, Nave answered, “Of course. It’s a simple way to show that you’re tough on crime. Politicians have achieved success using that trick before, look at Pataki and George Bush. I think Jodi Rell wants to join that list.”

As Rowland’s running mate and former lieutenant-governor, and a legislator since 1985, Rell is no stranger to crime politics. Her decision in December was the “smart political move” by most accounts. “This is the perfect home-run ball,” says Lawrence Cohen, a former Rowland advisor who is now a political columnist for the Hartford Courant. “She was very careful to make it sound like it wasn’t a blood lust. Outside of the most crazed ACLU lawyer, I don’t think [her decision] will have the slightest negative impact. Research indicates that what people like about governors is when they make strong, decisive stands on public policy issues — she did this quite well and quite adeptly. She has always had a good eye and a good ear for the public relations aspects of the job.”

It speaks to the bizarreness of the situation that the governor’s refusal to extend Michael Ross’ life coincided precisely with what Ross himself wants — or at least what he says he wants. In a letter he wrote to the governor as she was mulling her decision, Ross wrote, “Governor Rell, I have no death wish — I am simply trying to do the right thing by attempting to bring this horrible ordeal to an end. Please do not exercise your power to grant a temporary reprieve.” After Rell announced she would not issue a reprieve, Ross’ attorney said Ross was “happy the governor did what he asked her to do.”

Of course, Rell hardly accepted she was doing Ross’ bidding. “Let me be clear about this,” she said at a press conference, staring into the cameras. “I have no sympathy for Michael Ross. As governor I have attended far too many funerals of Connecticut soldiers who died a hero’s death in war. Those are the sons of Connecticut I will mourn, not Michael Ross.”

This latest and perhaps last chapter of the Michael Ross story began in June 2004, when the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected Ross’ mandatory direct appeal to the death sentence a jury had imposed in May 2000. Connecticut law requires that all death sentences be reviewed by the State Supreme Court. Beyond that, though, there is an extensive state appeals option available to death-row defendants — the “post-conviction” or “habeas corpus” appeals. As a defendant, “the odds are against you,” admits Richard Reeve, a capital defense attorney in New Haven, but the post-conviction appeals process can drag on for years. In 1996, for example, Daniel Webb initiated habeas appeals to his death sentence for the attempted rape and murder of a Hartford woman. Eight years later, Webb still has at least three different state court hearings left, to say nothing of his federal appeals options. It is little wonder that supporters of the death penalty have been denouncing Connecticut’s “never-ending appellate system” since the 1980s.

Today, Michael Ross wants no part in this system. He has been through two sentencing trials, each of which produced months of painful testimony. And in each case, the jury sent Ross to die. Ross is convinced that the only effects of a third penalty phase trial would be a third death sentence and further trauma for all involved. “My execution will not heal the families of my victims,” Ross wrote in his letter to Rell, “and it will not bring back their daughters. But it will bring about an end to the seemingly never-ending proceedings … [T]hese people deserve, they have the right to finally be able to put this behind them.”

Many remain skeptical of Ross’ apparent self-sacrifice. Lawlor says Ross “has a history of gaming the system.” Detective Malchik is even stronger. “This is 20 years that we’ve been jerking around with this thing,” says Malchik, “So why now? He never showed remorse before — he was just sorry he got caught. He is smart, manipulative, and he loves the publicity.” Plus, he says, “We’ve been down this road before.”

Malchik was referring to 1996, after the State Supreme Court threw out Ross’ death sentence and ordered a second penalty phase. Seeking to avoid another sentencing hearing, Ross dismissed his public defender team and tried to accept the death penalty. In the past, media accounts reported that it was Ross’ sudden change of mind that allowed the second penalty phase to go forward. In reality, Ross points out in his letter, “it was the court [that] later rejected the stipulations and forced the penalty phase to take place.”

It is not really true, then, that we’ve been down this road before. Before June, Ross had never had a death sentence upheld by the State Supreme Court. He had never before exhausted his direct, mandatory appeals. In short, whether Michael Ross lives or dies has never before been up to just Michael Ross. Now that it is, Ross has made it clear that he wishes to fight no longer.

After the state’s highest court upheld Ross’ second death sentences, his public defenders wanted to initiate the post-conviction appeals process. Michael Ross would have none of that. Instead, he fired the capital defense unit of the state public defenders’ office, asking T.R. Paulding, a Glastonbury-based defense attorney to represent him pro-bono. Paulding had been Ross’ court-appointed “stand-by counsel” when Ross tried to accept the death penalty in 1996. According to Paulding, “Ross’ rationale is the same now as it was then: he doesn’t want to put the victims’ families through this again.”

After 20 years of trying to save Michael Ross’ life, however, the public defenders refuse to stand by passively and watch him die. “We have a long-standing obligation to defend Michael Ross,” Gerard Smyth, the chief public defender for the state of Connecticut since 1994, says. “I think he’s suffering from 17 years of death row conditions, which can cause clinical depression.” It is the defenders position that Ross, who has attempted suicide three times since 1995, is no longer competent to assist in his own defense. In refusing further appeals, Smyth says, Ross is thus getting the state to do what he could not. In early November, the public defender’s office filed a brief requesting to appear in court as a “next friend” of Michael Ross and asked for a competency evaluation of the defendant.

Paulding calls questions of Michael Ross’ competency “simply ridiculous.” He says Ross “knows more than practically any lawyer I’ve ever met [about capital punishment jurisprudence].” Nor is there any question of his rationality, Paulding believes. “What he’s doing is the well-thought-out, coherent, logical, rational result of someone with a competent thinking mechanism. People disagree with his choice, but that has nothing to do with his competency or his right to make the choice.”

Superior Judge Patrick Clifford agreed. Saying the public defenders no longer had any standing in the case, Clifford ruled last month that Ross was competent to assist in his own defense. The public defenders appealed, but on Jan. 14 the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, refusing to postpone the execution.

Thus, after nearly 20 years of battling on the front lines for Ross’ life, the public defenders have been suddenly and nearly inescapably sidelined. “It’s very frustrating for all of us,” Smyth says earnestly. “People in this office have invested their careers and a good part of their lives to saving this guy and now he’s working against us.”

A particular source of their frustration is Paulding, Ross’ attorney. “I don’t understand what he’s doing as a defense attorney,” Smyth says. “I don’t know why he’s seeking to orchestrate his client’s death.” Many in the abolition movement are appalled at the actions of Paulding — the “Kevorkian lawyer” as he is known to some.

Paulding operates out of his firm’s small, two-room satellite office in Glastonbury. For the last 25 years, he has worked as a public defender, a prosecutor, counsel to the Connecticut House Republican Caucus, and, since the mid-1990s, a private defense attorney. Asked about Ross’ decision to forego further appeals and accept death, Paulding admits it is a complex one. “He sees the death penalty as wrong. He sees his decision to accept the death penalty as wrong. But he sees what he believes to be a greater evil in the suffering and torture to these families. So he opts for the lesser of two evils.”

Paulding sometimes speaks of Ross like an old college buddy. “The funny thing about Mike,” he says, grinning, “is that he’s a really a funny person — great wit, self-deprecating humor, and he hasn’t lost that.” Appalled by Ross’ crimes, Paulding believes they were less calculated than they were chemical: “What the world has here is a modern-day version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I don’t understand sexual sadism; I don’t know what made him do the things he did. All I know is that that Mr. Hyde person does not exist when he is treated with [medication]. The only Michael Ross that I’ve ever known is Dr. Jekyll.”

If Ross is complex, even inscrutable, his attorney is not without nuance. As a lawyer, he believes his client’s crimes were “a direct byproduct of his mental illness” and that as such Ross unjustly received a death sentence under Connecticut law. And as a friend, he doesn’t want to see Ross go. “What I have seen in Michael Ross are human character traits that are positive, worthwhile traits that are worth preserving. I see a side of him that makes me believe that he is not someone who deserves to die.” Yet he stands with his client and speaks for him in court and prepares motions on his behalf, helping Ross help the state put him to death.

In so doing, though, isn’t he working against justice?

“In the broad sense, yes.”

Then why do it?

“Because I think what I’m doing is right. The most important thing about being a lawyer is helping people, and I’m helping Michael Ross choose. When the public defenders filed their motions, it became apparent they were going to further their own agenda regardless of what Mike might want. I felt good that I took the case so that he had someone to express his interests and represent his rights.”

As for his own views on capital punishment, Paulding says they aren’t important, and anyway, they aren’t fully formed. “I’m not diametrically opposed, but I’m not thrilled with it either. I do have moral qualms, as well as legal qualms.” Not surprisingly, his experience with Michael Ross has shaped his views, and continues to do so. “I’m going through a phase in my life that’s obviously going to have an effect on me. This is something not too many lawyers experience. I’m waiting to see where this case takes me, including sitting in the execution chamber. Who knows what I’ll do after this is over? I may decide to work my ass off to get the death penalty abolished.”

In the end, of course, Paulding hopes the execution doesn’t happen. “I’m hoping for a miracle, but what I hope for isn’t important, but what Michael wants. And he wants to be executed.”

“It’s not only about Michael Ross,” says Smyth, the public defender. “It’s not just his decision. Just because he’s ready to die doesn’t mean the state should comply. The state has its own interests. There are unresolved issues that should be addressed before anyone is executed.” Smyth says Connecticut law requires mitigating factors to be evaluated independently of the facts of the case, and that did not happen in Ross’ previous cases. In other words, a jury must consider Michael Ross’ sexual sadism separately from his heinous crimes. Smyth believes that this would change the outcome in a third penalty phase. “There is a tremendous amount of subjective juror discretion involved in the ultimate decision-making,” he says. “A third hearing before a different jury could very well yield a different result.”

It is possible that simply stalling Ross’ execution may be enough to save his life for good. The Connecticut Supreme Court is currently reviewing the consolidated claims of death row inmates that the state death penalty scheme discriminates based on geography and ethnicity. Of the eight men currently facing death sentences in Connecticut, three are black and one is Latino. Six were tried in just one of Connecticut’s thirteen judicial districts, Waterbury, where John Connelly is the state’s attorney.

“We’re six for six,” says Connelly, smiling as he leans back in his chair. He brushes off charges that he is the quintessential overzealous prosecutor. “It’s not that I’ve brought an excessive number [of death penalty prosecutions]. What it shows is that the cases where we brought the death penalty truly fit the criteria.” Others disagree. “John Connelly tends to go for the death penalty in any marginal case that he thinks he can prove,” said Todd Fernow, a law professor at the University of Connecticut. The geographic disparities on death row reflect not only Connelly’s own enthusiasm for the death penalty, Fernow says, but a state attorney system that maximizes the power of its district heads. “The discretion to pursue the death penalty is unfettered in allowing prosecutors to pursue the death penalty. John Connelly has absolute discretion, and he doesn’t exercise discretion.”

Of course, such disparities do not apply to Michael Ross. While Ross’ victims were all white — racial disparities among murder victims are included in the death row inmates’ discrimination claims — he is neither a minority nor the object of apparent prosecutorial rabidity. “He’s not black, he’s not Hispanic, he wasn’t railroaded into a guilty verdict,” points out Cohen, the Courant columnist. “You have someone in Michael Ross who is as worthy a candidate for the death penalty as anyone in the nation.”

If Ross is hardly a compelling symbol of capital punishment’s unjustness, it is odd how he has become a sort of cause celebre among death penalty opponents in Connecticut and throughout New England. Even the CNADP’s Robert Nave admits, “No one sympathizes with Michael Ross.” Like Nave, Lawlor wishes the great death penalty debate had a more sympathetic centerpiece. “It’s a bad political context. I mean, it’s hard to imagine a worse package of crimes.” Somehow, Lawlor believes, death penalty opponents must detach their case against the death penalty from its human form: “This can’t be about Michael Ross and only Michael Ross. This is about our state — our values as a state.”

For the moment, however, the character and crimes of Michael Ross will loom over the death penalty debate in Connecticut. Among those who believe Michael Ross should be removed from the political equation is Michael Ross himself. “I truly believe that the best chance for an honest debate on the issue of the death penalty can only happen after my execution,” Ross wrote in his letter to Rell. “After all the people who say that the State of Connecticut is too liberal and will never allow an execution to take place are proven wrong. After all the people who claim that I am simply a ‘media hound’ seeking attention and will simply change my mind before my execution, are proven wrong.”

If Michael Ross is executed, the debate that follows would likely be rife with emotion, whatever its outcome. “Should this execution go forward,” says state Rep. John Kissel, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “Connecticut will have a very spiritual and philosophical debate about the death penalty.” Kissel, who supports the death penalty, will not predict what effect Ross’ execution would have on the body politic. “It has the potential to go a variety of ways,” he says. “People could become less opposed to the death penalty after it’s been done and the world didn’t end. We could have a heated debate and remain in the same spot. Or it could cause people to step back, creating a sort of philosophical sea change and a groundswell of opposition [to capital punishment].”

On both sides of the debate, passions are already rising. “It’s compassion that leads me to my position [on the death penalty],” says state Rep. Steve Mikutel, the assistant leader of the Connecticut House Democrats, his voice trembling. “I believe every person has a right to live a whole life, a full life, and I believe that right should never be snuffed out prematurely. Everyone in this world should be able to grow old and experience the best that life can give them. I think about those young girls who weren’t given the chance to say goodbye, who will never again experience a birthday party or Christmas morning. I think about everything they had ever hoped to become. That person who plays God by snuffing their lives out deserves to have his life forfeited as well. That, to me, is justice.”

The death penalty has become something of an anachronism in this area of the United States; the Northeast has not witnessed an execution since Eddie Lee Mays died in New York’s electric chair in 1963. Two years later, New York abolished the death penalty. Gov. George Pataki successfully pushed to reinstate in 1995, only to see the state’s highest court strike it down as unconstitutional this past June. Maine abolished the death penalty in 1847 following the public spectacle of a condemned man’s grotesque suffering in a shoddy noose. Rhode Island had not executed anyone since 1845 when it finally jettisoned its death penalty statute in the mid-1980’s, along with Massachusetts and Vermont. And late last year, New Jersey Gov. Richard Cooley proposed a moratorium on the death penalty until a special