Tommy Ross to face more charges in California

Appeal of dismissed murder charges in Port Angeles pending

Tommy Lee Ross Jr.

Tommy Lee Ross Jr.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Convicted murderer Tommy Lee Ross Jr., whose dismissal of another set of murder charges in Port Angeles is being challenged in the state Court of Appeals, will be arraigned today on five charges stemming from an incident Sunday afternoon in California, a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Tuesday.

Ross was in the Sacramento County jail Tuesday on $50,000 bail, according to jail records. He will be arraigned in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Ross was being held for investigation of felony endangering the life or health of a child, felony threats to commit a crime that could result in death of great bodily injury, misdemeanor threatening with a weapon, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor removing or destroying a wireless communications device.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Shaun Hampton said Tuesday there did not appear to be any injuries in the incident because there was no request for assistance from a fire department.

Hampton said Ross was arrested after a person called 9-1-1 at 3:04 p.m. Sunday to report a disturbance in the 8100 block of Point Loma Way, a south Sacramento residence where Ross lives.

After a law enforcement helicopter crew observed Ross on the back patio of the home, Ross was peacefully detained at 3:36 p.m. at the home with aid from a canine officer.

Hampton said that Ross was armed with a knife during the disturbance.

Children and an 86-year-old woman were present at the home.

Hampton did not have details on the accusation related to battery.

The charge regarding the wireless communications device “means he was trying to prevent someone from calling 9-1-1 by either destroying or disconnecting a phone,” he said.

“It originally came in as an incomplete 9-1-1 call.”

Hampton said Ross’s bail was set according to a state bail-setting schedule.

In Clallam County, Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour dismissed first- and second-degree murder charges against Ross on Oct. 23. The charges were in connection with the 1978 strangling death of Janet Bowcutt, 20, of Port Angeles.

Speedy trial rights

Coughenour said Ross’ speedy trial rights were violated by the 40-year delay in prosecuting the case while he served a prison term in Canada.

Ross moved to California immediately after the dismissal to care for his mother, said his former lawyer, Lane Wolfley of Port Angeles.

The Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed an appeal of the dismissal to the state Court of Appeals in Tacoma, which had not issued a ruling as of late Tuesday afternoon, a court spokeswoman said.

Wolfley had argued before Coughenour that in the years since Bowcutt’s murder, evidence was lost or compromised, witnesses and law enforcement officials had died or would be difficult to contact, and that Clallam County authorities had made no effort to prosecute his client for nearly four decades.

In a March 1 hearing before the appeals court, Nancy Collins of the Washington Appellate project argued on behalf of Ross.

“The prosecution has the overriding obligation to afford the right to a speedy trial,” Collins told the three-judge panel.

She pointed to then-Prosecuting Attorney Grant Meiner’s decision in 1979 to allow Ross to face a charge of murder for the strangulation death of 26-year-old Janice Forbes of Victoria, who was killed three weeks after Bowcutt’s death, rather than have Ross immediately face charges in Bowcutt’s death.

Meiner said Canadian authorities had promised to release Ross to face trial in Port Angeles once Ross’s Canadian trial was over, which did not happen.

Instead, Ross spent 38 years in a Canadian prison for murdering Forbes, with Clallam County never seeking his extradition, Coughenour said.

A few days after being released on parole in November 2016, Ross was arrested on the U.S. side of the border in Blaine in connection with Bowcutt’s murder.

Jesse Espinoza, Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney, argued before the appeals court March 1 that there were multiple legitimate reasons for the delay, one of which was to allow another jurisdiction to go first in prosecuting Ross.

He said Ross had applied to — but did not — transfer to the U.S. in 1988, the same year Ross admitted to two Port Angeles detectives that he killed Bowcutt, according to Ross’ probable cause statement in an unrecorded confession that Ross has denied making.

“The facts in this case clearly show that Mr. Ross did not want a speedy trial,” Espinoza said at the appeals court hearing.

“He had multiple opportunities to come back, and he didn’t.”

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

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