Murder suspect Tommy Ross consults with his attorney, Lane Wolfley of Port Angeles, during a court hearing Tuesday. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Murder suspect Tommy Ross consults with his attorney, Lane Wolfley of Port Angeles, during a court hearing Tuesday. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Hearings set in 1978 murder case

PORT ANGELES — Law enforcement officers, including former Port Angeles Police Chief Tom Riepe, will testify in a May 23 evidentiary hearing leading up to the trial of Tommy Ross Jr. on charges in the 1978 murder of Janet Bowcutt.

The officers will give testimony May 23 in a series of four proceedings leading up to Ross’ scheduled Aug. 28 trial on charges of first- and second-degree murder, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour decided Tuesday in a hearing punctuated by Ross expressing his frustration with the proceedings.

Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly said Riepe will answer questions about statements Ross, 58, made to Riepe in a May 11, 1988, interview, when Riepe was a detective sergeant and Ross was in Saskatchewan Federal Prison in Canada.

Ross was then serving a life sentence for the 1978 strangulation murder of Janice Forbes, 26, of Victoria.

Riepe was accompanied by Detective Ken Fox and then-Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau, according to a Nov. 16 certification for probable cause charging Ross with first- and second-degree murder in Bowcutt’s death by strangulation.

Kelly said later Tuesday that she expects Fox to testify May 23 but was not sure about Bruneau.

Ross admitted in the interview with the officers to killing Bowcutt in her West Eighth Street Port Angeles apartment in April 1978 and insisted on receiving the death penalty for murdering Bowcutt, 20, and for killing three other females, according to the certification for probable cause.

The May 23 hearing will determine if Ross made the statements freely and voluntarily and if he was of sound mental condition, Kelly said after Tuesday’s hearing.

She also told Coughenour that Ross, represented by attorney Lane Wolfley of Port Angeles, had rejected a plea offer in the case.

Coughenour also set May 30 for a hearing date to discuss fingerprint evidence that Wolfley claims exonerates his client and a June 6 hearing to determine whether the murder that Ross was serving time for in Saskatchewan can be presented as evidence in his upcoming murder trial.

Coughenour also set July 11 for a hearing on DNA evidence that Kelly said may not be necessary because it does not so far appear to directly link Ross to Bowcutt’s murder.

Coughenour set the hearings for 9 a.m.

Ross insisted on addressing Coughenour over how long it’s taking to have his day in court after Kelly said she will not be available for court proceedings for at least a month before Ross’ trial.

He was arrested for investigation of Bowcutt’s murder Nov. 16 at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing in Blaine a week after his release on parole after serving nearly four decades for murdering Forbes.

Kelly, a Clallam County prosecuting attorney from 2003-13 who is representing Clallam County without charge, told Coughenour that she will be gone from April 3 to May 6 because of a trip that was planned before she agreed to take the case.

Kelly also will not be available for a period in June for the birth of a grandchild.

Ross spoke over Wolfley’s warning that his statements would not provide “benefit to the discussion.”

“The thing of it is, I don’t believe none of these dates,” Ross told Coughenour.

Ross, who is in the Clallam County jail on $1.5 million bail, said Kelly should not have taken the case if she won’t be available in April.

“So I sit here and suffer,” he said. “None of you are sitting in jail.”

Kelly said DNA tests of material found under Bowcutt’s fingernails were inconclusive and she did not believe they resulted from a struggle by the victim.

She also said authorities could not find the original record of a fingerprint that linked Ross to Bowcutt’s murder that had been in the possession of Canadian authorities.

The fingerprint was on the doorknob of Bowcutt’s bathroom and was believed to be Ross’.

“We have lost track of the fingerprint,” Kelly said.

But the FBI took photos of the fingerprint in 1978, Kelly said.

Wolfley has filed a motion to exclude the photograph from trial, Kelly said.

Kelly said she did not have much hope that further testing of the DNA samples would yield more concrete results.

“I don’t really expect we are going to get much out of it other than perhaps a bunch of noise,” Kelly said.

Wolfley did not return calls for comment on the case after the hearing.

Riepe retired from the police chief position in 2007.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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