From the Vault: The Toughest Cases of Defense Lawyer Hubert Santos

In the 2008 issue of New England Super Lawyers, we profiled defense attorney Hubert J. Santos of Santos & Seeley in Hartford, Conn. Santos has represented clients accused of matricide, attacking children with carpet cutters and more. An excerpt:

It's hard to think anything could be more dramatic than that. But then Santos met Michael Ross. Ross had confessed to murdering eight women in the early '80s and had spent 18 years on death row. Ross refused to appeal his case and told attorney T. R. Paulding that he wanted to die. Paulding wanted to help him. Santos was brought in to assist the state's public defenders in showing that Ross was not competent to make this decision.

"Ten days of bedlam" followed. He and Seeley asked the judge for a competency hearing, to show that Ross suffered from "death row syndrome"--a type of depression caused by long, demoralizing confinement. Expert witnesses persuaded Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny to issue a stay of execution. State prosecutors appealed. The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld. The prosecutors appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the original stay by 5-4. Although he wasn't happy about it, Chatigny set a new execution date: Jan. 29 at 2 a.m. Eleven hours before Ross' execution, the attorneys involved participated in a conference call. Santos was on his way to a school in Vermont to pick up his son. As the call came in, his cell service stopped. He rushed to find a pay phone. No luck. Seeley covered for him.

Santos soon joined the conversation and told the judge that he had new information from a corrections officer at Northern Correctional Institution, where Ross had been incarcerated. The officer had helped Ross set up a law library and watched the inmate's mental health decline. It was convincing new evidence that showed the instability of Ross.

One hour before Ross was to be put to death, Chatigny called off the execution. But after a hearing in state court, the judge found Ross to be competent. Ross was executed in May 2005.

Read the full story here.