Court hearing in 1978 murder case reset due to judge’s conflict of interest

PORT ANGELES — A court hearing for Tommy Ross Jr., who is accused of strangling a Port Angeles woman to death in April 1978, has been reset because the presiding judge had a conflict of interest with his case.

The hearing was moved Friday to Jan. 13 because Clallam County Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly had recused himself for having some familiarity with the 38-year-old murder case.

Ross, 58, is charged with the murder of 20-year-old Janet Bowcutt of Port Angeles. He pleaded not guilty at his Dec. 2 arraignment and is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 30.

He was convicted in 1979 for the murder of Janice Forbes of Victoria.

Like Bowcutt, Forbes was found fully clothed, bound, gagged and strangled to death in her apartment, Port Angeles police said in the affidavit for probable cause.

The Victoria murder occurred three weeks after Bowcutt was killed, the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said.

Ross was arrested at the Peach Arch border crossing in Blaine after he was granted parole by Canadian authorities in November, prosecutors said.

He was booked into the Clallam County jail for investigation of Bowcutt’s death Nov. 15. He is being held on $1.5 million bail.

Melly disclosed in a Nov. 23 court hearing that he had a “minimal recollection” of the Ross case from his days working as the chief deputy in the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the late 1980s.

Melly said he recalled that two police detectives and then-Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau interviewed Ross in a Canadian prison in 1988.

In that interview, Ross allegedly confessed to killing Bowcutt.

Melly, the only presiding judge on Friday’s criminal court calendar, reminded Ross and his attorney that he was recused.

“That’s true,” defense attorney Lane Wolfley said. “You are. Then I don’t think we can go forward with anything.”

“I don’t think so, either,” Melly said.

Melly rescheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. Jan. 13.

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

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