HED:Ross found guilty of capital murder
By Jane Clark Summers
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY - A jury of his peers will decide today if Charles Wayne Ross of Ripley gets the death penalty or life in prison during the penalty phase of the Tippah County capital murder trial.
The circuit court jury deliberated a little more than three hours Thursday before finding the 41-year-old former construction worker guilty of killing Hershel Ray Yancey during the commission of a robbery.
Yancey, 52, was shot four times as he sat on the couch in his home in the Dumas community on the night of Friday, June 28, 1996. His body was discovered early the next morning by his mother when he failed to show up for breakfast at her house across the road.
Prosecutors used witnesses, who heard a loud car in the area that night, to place the time of death between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
Ross, who testified in his own behalf Thursday, claimed he was at a Union County residence where his half-sister lived at that time.
However, his testimony conflicted with that of his half-sister Margaret Jones, the state's key witness.
Jones said her brother confessed to killing Yancey and stealing the victim's TV, VCR and a wallet containing $5. Ross had expected to take away much more that night, she said, since he knew that Yancey got paid on Fridays.
The victim's uncashed payroll check was recovered at the murder scene. His TV and VCR were seized at the Union County residence of Tommy Hale where Ross spent the night of June 28.
District Attorney Jim Hood recalled the victim's mother, Marie Yancey, to rebut testimony of defense witness Carrie Beatty.
On Wednesday, Beatty testified she saw a green, early 1970s model Chevrolet pickup in the victim's driveway between 9:30 and 10 p.m. on the night of the murder.
Beatty said she saw only two vehicles on the property, Yancey's old maroon hatchback and the pickup.
Marie Yancey told the court her son had two vehicles parked in his driveway, a truck and a car, both of which had not run for over a year.
Beatty's mother, Linda Gray, placed a dark-colored car making a loud racket in the vicinity of the crime at about 9:28 p.m.
Marie Yancey also reported hearing a loud vehicle pass by her house at about the same time. Gray lived about a quarter-mile from the Yanceys.
Ross admitted he owned a black Cougar with a loud muffler but said he was not at Yancey's house that night.
Under direct examination by defense attorney Chris Kitchens, Ross denied killing the man.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Jim Pannell painted a scenario where Ross was framed by his half-sister, who Pannell alleged was covering for her own son, Jerry Sanders, 17, and her nephew, Donald Ross Jr., who is 19.
The younger Ross is charged with accessory after the fact to capital murder for aiding his uncle in eluding law enforcement officials. He is being held on $200,000 bond.
Pannell pointed out there were no fingerprints nor blood linking the defendant to the crime. Investigators failed to take fingerprints from anyone other than the defendant to compare to any found at the crime scene, he said.
State experts could not positively identify the murder weapon or state for sure that fragments of a broken taillight found at the murder scene came from Ross' car, Kitchens said.
In his closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Kelly Luther said several pieces of evidence linking Ross to the crime were undisputed during the four-day trial.
"His own sister gave a statement to law enforcement that this man told her 'I killed this man for $5,'" Luther said.
In asking for a guilty verdict, Hood said, "Let's go on and determine if this man deserves to live or die."
Ross, who was indicted as a habitual offender, will not be eligible for parole if the jury is unable to decide on the death penalty. If he is sentenced to life, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
He was convicted in federal court in 1989 for armed bank robbery and in Prentiss County Circuit Court in 1980 for grand larceny.
The jury was not allowed to hear testimony concerning these prior convictions.
Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Coleman is presiding over the trial that resumes with the penalty phase today at 9 a.m.