Ex-Texas Tech student executed for double slaying

AP News
Posted: Jul 18, 2013 7:48 PM
Ex-Texas Tech student executed for double slaying

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former Texas Tech graduate student was executed Thursday for a double slaying in Lubbock a dozen years ago.

Vaughn Ross, 41, was condemned for the January 2001 fatal shootings of an 18-year-old woman with whom he had been feuding an associate dean at the university who was with her at the time.

He had no friends or relatives present but told them he loved them, thanked them for their support and urged they stay strong.

"You know I don't fear death," he said, strapped to the death chamber gurney.

The execution, the 10th this year in the nation's most active capital punishment state, came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal to block the punishment. Ross contended his previous appeals attorneys neglected to note that his trial lawyers didn't present evidence that may have convinced jurors to sentence him to life in prison.

Defense attorney Don Vernay also argued that differences in rulings involving similar cases decided by the justices needed to be resolved and Ross' punishment should be put off until those conflicts are clarified.

Assistant Texas Attorney General Tomee Heining contested the appeal, noting that Ross' trial lawyers called witnesses on Ross' behalf and managed an "admirable mitigation defense" even though Ross had instructed his family and friends not to cooperate.

"Ross cannot interfere with trial counsel's strategy and later claim deficient performance," Heining told the high court.

A bicyclist spotted the bodies of Douglas Birdsall, 53, the associate dean of libraries at Texas Tech University, and Viola Ross McVade in a car in a gully at a Lubbock park. McVade was the sister of Ross' girlfriend and was not related to the convicted killer.

Court documents said Birdsall had been looking for a prostitute and that a friend of McVade introduced him to her that evening. Prosecutors contend McVade was the intended target, and that Birdsall was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Both victims were shot multiple times. Detectives said they linked Ross to the deaths after finding his and Birdsall's DNA on part of a latex glove in the car. DNA tests on Ross' sweatshirt also detected blood from both victims.

Ross, from St. Louis, came to Texas Tech for graduate work in architecture. When questioned by detectives, he acknowledged arguing and threatening McVade. He also acknowledged wearing latex gloves but said they were to protect his hands while he was doing some cleaning with bleach.

While in jail, Ross phoned his mother, who asked if he had any involvement in the slayings. He replied he "might have," according to the tape-recorded call.

"I've always said a guy could never lie to his mama," Matt Powell, the Lubbock County district attorney who prosecuted the case, said last week. "It was the closest thing we had to a confession."

Authorities believed Bridsall and McVade were ambushed in an alley behind Ross' apartment after Ross had ordered McVade's sister to leave. Birdsall's blood and glass from shattered windows of his car were found in the alley, as well as a shell casing matching casings inside Birdsall's car.

Prosecutors believed the latex glove was torn when Ross moved Birdsall's body from the front to the back seat so he could drive the car to the gully.

Birdsall's son, Nathaniel, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, his father raised him to believe the death penalty was unjust.

"I am saddened that the loss of two lives will be needlessly compounded by the taking of a third," he said.

At least six other Texas prisoners have execution dates set for the coming months, including one later this month.