Man accused in 38-year-old murder gets new attorney

Tommy Ross Jr.

PORT ANGELES — A man accused of strangling a Port Angeles woman to death more than 38 years ago has a new attorney.

Tommy Ross Jr. will be represented by Port Angeles attorney Lane Wolfley, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly ruled Wednesday.

Ross, 58, will be arraigned in the April 1978 murder of 20-year-old Janet Bowcutt on Friday, Dec. 2.

He had been serving a life sentence in Canada for a May 1978 murder when he was granted parole last week.

Bowcutt and Janice Forbes of Victoria were each found fully clothed, bound, gagged and strangled to death in their apartments, Port Angeles Police Detective David Arand said in court documents.

Ross was arrested near the U.S.-Canadian border in Blaine last week for investigation of the Bowcutt murder.

He is being held in the Clallam County jail on $1.5 million bail.

Clallam Public Defender was appointed to Ross’ defense at his initial court appearance Nov. 16.

Wolfley of Wolfley Law Office was appointed Wednesday because of a conflict with Clallam Public Defender.

Agency Director Harry Gasnick said the conflict had to do with a potential witness who is affiliated with his office.

“Certainly I have all the respect in the world for Mr. Wolfley’s accomplishments as an attorney,” Gasnick said after the hearing.

Within the past year, Wolfley obtained a not-guilty verdict in an armed assault case and a self-defense verdict award of attorney fees, Gasnick recalled.

“That’s pretty good work,” Gasnick said.

Meanwhile, Melly recused himself from Ross’ case after appointing Wolfley.

The judge disclosed that he had a “minimal recollection” of the case from his days working as a chief deputy in the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the late 1980s.

In 1988, two detectives and then-Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau interviewed Ross at a Canadian prison in Saskatchewan, where he allegedly confessed to killing Bowcutt.

Retired Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly, who Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said is handling the Ross case because of her familiarity with the allegations and her prosecutorial experience, advised Melly that he had once drafted a memo about the interview.

“It was a fairly minimal contact, but the court, your honor, did have some marginal involvement with the case,” Kelly said.

Melly said he did not recall the memo but did remember Bruneau and two detectives going to Canada to interview Ross.

Melly said he was not assigned to Ross’ case and would not likely preside over his future hearings.

“The only reason I’m seeing it today is because I’m the only judge available,” Melly said.

“It’s more likely than not that virtually all of your future appearances will be in front of either Judge [Erik] Rohrer or Judge [Brian] Coughenour,” Melly told Ross.

Kelly and Gasnick each said they did not object to Melly presiding over Wednesday’s hearing.

Wolfley said his appointment was “more or less a non-discretionary act.”

But given the nature of the case and his position with the prosecutor’s office when Ross allegedly confessed to the Bowcutt murder, Melly said it was “probably prudent” to formally recuse himself to “eliminate that as an issue.”

Ross was paroled from the Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 10 and was deported by Canada Border Services Agency.

He was arrested on American soil by Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.