Monday, July 15, 2013
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit described the facts of the crime and the evidence admitted during the punishment phase as follows:
On Jan 31, 2001, the bodies of Douglas Birdsall and Viola McVade were found inside Birdsall’s car in a ravine. Both had been shot numerous times and both had died from gunshot wounds to the head.
After discovering the bodies, police investigated the report of shots fired the night before, to see if there was a connection with the murders. In an alley behind Vaughn Ross’s apartment, police discovered glass shards and two pools of blood. The larger pool of blood was consistent with Birdsall’s DNA profile. A shell casing recovered from the scene matched the shell casings found inside Birdsall’s car. A latex glove tip found inside Birdsall’s car was tested. Blood on the exterior of the glove tip was consistent with Birdsall’s DNA profile. The inside of the glove tip contained DNA consistent with Ross’s DNA.
When Ross was interviewed by the police on January 31, he admitted that he was angry with Viola on the evening of January 30, and that he and Viola had argued over the phone. The police interviewed Ross again on February 2. In that interview, he admitted that he had argued with Viola and had threatened her. Ross also admitted that he had worn latex gloves that night because he was going to mop his kitchen floor and the bleach hurt his hands.
With Ross’s consent, police searched his apartment and found two latex gloves and a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt had a very small bloodstain that DNA testing revealed to be consistent with Birdsall’s, and Ross’s DNA was on the inside of the shirt. Later, when he was in jail, Ross spoke with his mother, who asked him whether he had committed the crime. Ross responded that he might have.
At trial, the jury convicted Ross of capital murder. The jury answered affirmatively the special punishment issues on future dangerousness and whether Ross caused or anticipated the deaths of the victims. It answered negatively the special issue on mitigating circumstances. Accordingly, the trial court imposed the death sentence.
During the penalty phase of Ross’s trial, the State presented evidence that, on August 9, 2001, during roll call at the Lubbock County Jail, Ross was not wearing his mandatory identification wristband. When asked about the band, Ross threw it into the aisle; the metal brads on the wristband had been altered and removed. When informed that the wristband would be confiscated, Ross became upset and begin using profanity towards a jailer. The jailer wrote an incident report for cursing at a detention officer because Ross kind of went crazy.
Evidence also showed that Ross was placed on probation in Missouri on October 7, 1997, when he pled guilty to a Class B felony for assault and a Class C felony for stealing a motor vehicle. The victim was Ross’s girlfriend, who had been stalking him. According to Ross, on July 13, 1997, the victim pulled out a butcher knife and attempted to stab him, but he took the knife and stabbed her. The victim received a laceration to her right arm, stab wounds to her left thigh, nine cut-wounds, three stab wounds, several stitches, and a laceration to the left side of her neck which could have potentially been life-threatening. The victim stated that Ross told her to give him her neck, that she was going to die. Ross also stole the victim’s car. Ross expressed no remorse for the crime, and did not accept responsibility for the incident.
In February 2001, Ross was indicted by a Lubbock County grand jury for capital murder in the deaths of Birdsall and McVade.
On September 23, 2002, Ross was convicted of capital murder.
On September 27, 2002, Ross was sentenced to death after a separate hearing on punishment.
On May 5, 2004, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed Ross’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Ross did not seek certiorari review.
On January 23, 2003, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Ross’s state habeas application on January 23, 2003.
On December 1, 2011, the federal district court denied habeas corpus relief and a certificate of appealability (COA).
On Feb. 5, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Ross a certificate of appealability.
On February 8, 2013, Ross’s execution was set for July 18, 2013.
On May 3, 2013, Ross filed a motion for stay of execution and a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. That petition and motion for stay are currently pending.
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trialwhich is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.