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Tommy Ross Jr. waits for court date after serving 38 years for Victoria killing

Tommy Ross Jr., an American man who served 38 years in prison for the murder of a Victoria woman in 1978, will have to wait until next spring for a trial in a killing in Port Angeles.
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Tommy Ross Jr., right, sits with one of his lawyers in Clallam County Superior Court in November 2016.

Tommy Ross Jr., an American man who served 38 years in prison for the murder of a Victoria woman in 1978, will have to wait until next spring for a trial in a killing in Port Angeles.

“We’ve got everything possible out for DNA analysis and it takes time,” said Ross’s lawyer, Lane Wolfley. “What is encouraging is that the scientists involved do feel this provides very reliable evidence.”

Ross, 58, was arrested by U.S. authorities in November 2016 after being released on full parole from an Abbotsford prison and deported after serving his time for the murder of Janice Aili Forbes, a young Victoria mother strangled to death in her Queens Avenue apartment. Ross had been in Canada about the time of the killing, visiting a brother in Victoria.

Clallam county prosecutors charged Ross with the murder of Janet Bowcutt, another young mother strangled to death in her Port Angeles apartment a few weeks before Forbes was killed.

The murder case was to go to trial this month, but the prosecutors and defence agreed to postpone proceedings until more evidence could be collected in the nearly four-decade-old case.

Wolfley said the case files include thousands of documents, witnesses to track down and other leads to follow — in addition to advanced DNA testing. Preliminary results of fingernail clippings excluded Ross. Now, the ligatures used to restrain Bowcutt will be tested.

Wolfley said Ross is not keen to spend more time in jail awaiting trial, but sees the value in better evidence.

“I think he’s very positive about the prospects of what the results will bring,” he said, adding Ross has had family visit.

Wolfley said he’s also taking the time to look into other possible suspects in the murder.

“We’ve discovered, so far, five serial murderers working the west coast of B.C. to California in that time,” he said. This includes the Hillside Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi, who along with his cousin killed 10 women between 1977 and his arrest in 1979.

Wolfley said that it is still to be determined whether evidence from the Forbes murder in Victoria will be admissible in the Bowcutt trial. At the 1979 Forbes trial, Crown prosecutors called witnesses and used evidence from the Bowcutt killing even though Ross had not been charged at that time.

John Troberg, deputy prosecuting attorney for Clallam County, said a judge still has to decide on the similar evidence — which also includes the 1977 murder of Bethel Woolridge in Los Angeles.

He said he has been to Victoria and Vancouver several times, along with prosecutor Deb Kelly, to collect evidence from the archives.

“The Victoria court staff and police have been very helpful,” said Troberg, adding he and Kelly are working exclusively on this case.

Other evidence that has been ruled admissible includes copies of a fingerprint card, despite the original being lost after its use by Victoria police, and an apparent confession from Ross in 1988, which his lawyer argues was a desperate attempt to get the death penalty.

When Ross was granted parole for the Forbes murder, he was assisted by Michael Jackson, a University of British Columbia law professor and solitary-confinement expert, who argued Ross was subjected to racism and abuse in the Canadian legal and prison system. The parole board acknowledged that Ross was affected by the racism he experienced before and during his incarceration.

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