6 hours after suspect in 40-year-old murder case walks free, he is back in custody

A 60-year-old man convicted of murder who was also charged in a 40-year-old Port Angeles murder case had his charges dismissed by a judge, walked out of the Clallam County Jail a free man and was arrested again in Oregon by court order, all in the span of six hours.

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The family of the Port Angeles woman he's accused of killing in 1978 said it feels "slapped in the face'' by the judicial system.

Tommy Ross Jr. is now being held in the Clackamas County jail on $1.5 million bail while the Court of Appeals decides whether his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated by a 38-year delay in facing charges for the case.

Ross, originally from Los Angeles, served 38 years in a British Columbia prison after being convicted of the strangulation murder of 26-year-old mother and model Janice Forbes in her Victoria apartment on Mother's Day 1978.

Court documents detail how Forbes was hog-tied tightly with scarves and a belt from her ankles to her neck, and how her struggling likely caused strangulation.

Detectives released a composite sketch of an African-American man who was seen entering and leaving the building.

Three weeks earlier, 20-year-old single mother Janet Bowcutt, of Port Angeles, was found dead in the bedroom of her apartment under remarkably similar circumstances. Police found Bowcutt strangled after being hog-tied the same way as Forbes. Bowcutt's 6-month-old baby boy Jimmy was found crying on the bed next to her, unharmed.

Forty years and six months to the day later, Jimmy Bowcutt told KIRO 7 how the loss will always affect him deeply.

"I just wish I knew my mom, he said. "I just wish I knew who she was. It's not fair."

"She was an awesome person," said Bowcutt's sister Pamela Horkey. "She was funny, always had a smile, and she'd give you the shirt off her back. It is the most devastating hurtful thing, ever, to lose a sister at that young age."

Eight months after the murders of Bowcutt and Forbes, detectives arrested 20-year-old Tommy Ross Jr. in Los Angeles, where he was facing other charges.

Ross, who, according to court records, was also a person of interest in another strangulation case in Southern California, was brought to Clallam County, where he faced charges for the murders of both Janet Bowcutt and Janice Forbes, based on fingerprints and witnesses who said they had spotted Ross near both scenes.

Grant Meiner, the Clallam County prosecuting attorney at the time, who later became a Superior Court judge, allowed Ross to be tried in Canada first for the Forbes murder.

Records show Canadian courts resisted allowing Ross to return to the U.S. to face charges in Port Angeles until his sentence was completed. Documents also suggest Ross was given the choice several times to be transferred to the U.S. prison system and face charges for the Bowman case. In every case, court records say Ross, declined the offer.

"Our office could have, back in 1979, decided to prosecute him first," said Clallam County Deputy Prosecutor Steven Johnson. "But they made the decision to let him go to Canada first and be tried there with the understanding that Mr. Ross would then come back in 1979 after the trial was over and face prosecution here."

Records show that, during his 38-year stint in Canadian prison, Ross was often combative. He stabbed another inmate and repeatedly threatened and assaulted prison staff.

When his sentence ended in 2016, Ross was promptly arrested again by Port Angeles police when he crossed the U.S. border at Blaine, Washington.

As prosecutors prepared to put Ross on trial in Port Angeles, his attorney, Lane Wolfley, argued Ross' constitutional rights to a speedy trial had been violated when his trial was put on hold for 38 years.

Murder charges against Tommy Ross Jr. were dropped by superior court judge Brian Coughenour and Ross was allowed to leave the Clallam County jail on Tuesday as a free man.

"When he got let out, it tore me up inside," said Jimmy Bowcutt. Horkey said she was inconsolable, in disbelief at the judge's decision. "When I found out that he actually walked out of the jail, I lost it," she said.

Clallam County prosecutors immediately asked the courts for an emergency stay and an order to bring Ross back to jail, saying, "The State believes Ross presents an immediate danger to the community and is likely to leave Washington State, likely for California."

Five hours later, a Court of Appeals judge agreed, and ordered Ross back into custody. He was arrested on I-5 while being driven by his family in Oregon. Ross remains in a Clackamas County jail cell while the court of appeals decides if he should be set free or tried for murder.

"We regard this as an extremely serious case and we will do everything we can to hold him accountable," said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Troberg.

Meanwhile, Janet Bowcutt's family told KIRO-7 it wishes it could appeal to the courts.

"(Ross) took away a daughter, a sister, a mother and a friend," said Horkey. "She was all those things, and he took all that away from us. If he gets convicted, it would take a little bit of the sting out. If he's put away, he can't hurt somebody else. He can't take away somebody else's daughter or sister or mom. He can't do that."

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