Tommy L. Ross Jr.

Tommy L. Ross Jr.

Judge to rule on admissibility of evidence in Port Angeles cold case murder trial

PORT ANGELES — A judge will rule Jan. 15 on motions limiting trial evidence that could be presented on behalf of accused murderer Tommy Ross, who shouted in court last month that he was being unfairly treated because he is African American.

Ross, 59, will stand trial March 19 in Clallam County Superior Court on first- and second-degree murder charges in the April 24, 1978, strangulation death of Janet Bowcutt, 20, of Port Angeles.

Ross is on Canadian parole for the May 14, 1978, strangulation death of Janice Forbes, 26, of Victoria.

“I can’t get a fair hearing here,” Ross, 59, yelled to Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour at a Dec. 19 hearing.

Ross said he objected to former county Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly “saying I hated white people and all kinds of nonsense.”

Ross also objected to not being able to talk with Coughenour directly about the case, saying he had written to the judge and not heard back from him.

Coughenour said the Dec. 19 hearing was “not an appropriate time” to discuss the case with Ross.

Ross accused Kelly of lying.

“If I was white, you wouldn’t be doing this damn bull [expletive],” Ross told Coughenour.

“You’re not treating me fair.

“You’re letting her make things up that ain’t true.”

Ross’ brother told authorities that Ross “had a violent history and hatred toward whites,” according to a Nov. 16, 2016, certification for probable cause under which Ross was arrested for investigation of allegedly murdering Bowcutt.

Bowcutt and Forbes were white.

Kelly said Wednesday she was not surprised by Ross’ outburst.

“It’s just consistent with what I’ve learned about Mr. Ross,” she said. “I’m not going to go any further than that.”

Lane Wolfley, Ross’ attorney, tried to calm down Ross at the hearing before Ross returned to the Clallam County jail on $1.5 million bail.

Wolfley would not comment Thursday on Ross’ assertions.

“I didn’t want him to do that,” he said of the outburst.

“It has been my experience that those kinds of outbursts are not effective in arriving at the truth,” he said Thursday.

“They don’t help in the truth-finding process.”

Coughenhour ruled at the end of a Dec. 19 hearing that he would decide on excluding references from Ross’ Canadian trial regarding a fingerprint report related to the Canadian murder.

The report had alleged that the fingerprint was forged.

Wolfley is challenging fingerprint evidence for Ross’ Port Angeles trial that authorities said was found in Bowcutt’s apartment.

Ross’ left-hand middle fingerprint was allegedly found on Bowcutt’s bathroom doorknob.

Coughenour ruled Dec. 19 in favor of the prosecution on a motion regarding evidence he will allow at Ross’ trial related to the Canadian murder.

He decided evidence or argument could not be used that alleged Forbes used or possessed drugs, was an escort or prostitute and obtained her housing under a low-income government program.

Coughenour will rule Jan. 15 on allowing testimony or reference to Ross losing an eye during his Canadian prison term.

Wolfley has said the injury occurred when Ross was stabbed during a prison fight.

He has said the incident grew out of the “horrendous” conditions Ross lived in while serving time at the prison, where he allegedly confessed to Port Angeles authorities that he murdered Bowcutt in an effort to receive the death penalty.

Ross has denied making the confession.

Wolfley said Thursday he will present a witness list for Ross’ trial at the Jan. 15 hearing.

Wolfley does not expect to call Ross to testify.

“At this point, the state has not produced enough evidence, in my opinion, to where it would be necessary to put him on the stand,” he said Thursday.

Kelly said she will call more than 40 witnesses, including former Port Angeles Police Chief Tom Riepe, who was a detective sergeant in 1988 when Ross allegedly made his confession to killing Bowcutt, two women in Los Angeles, Calif., and one woman in Anaheim, Calif.

Kelly also expects to call as witnesses former county Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau and former Detective Ken Fox, who were present for the alleged confession, which was not recorded.

Wolfley has said notes on the interview were written “several weeks” after the three officers met with Ross.

Kelly said Thursday that Fox wrote his report on the confession “within a couple of days.”


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

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