HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Part of a latex glove was found in the bloody car in which two bullet-riddled bodies were left abandoned in a Lubbock gully in 2001. DNA tests found one of the victim's blood on the outside of glove fragment, but sweat and skin cells on the inside matched a Texas Tech graduate student.
Those tests helped convict Vaughn Ross, who is scheduled for execution Thursday evening.
Ross, who at the time was studying architecture at the university, was found guilty of capital murder for the January 2001 slayings of Douglas Birdsall, 53, an associate dean of libraries at the Lubbock school, and 18-year-old Viola McVade, the sister of Ross' girlfriend. DNA tests on Ross' sweatshirt also detected blood from both victims.
Ross' lethal injection will be the second this week in Texas and the 10th this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Attorneys for Ross asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution and review his case, contending that his previous appeals lawyers failed to argue that his trial lawyers didn't present mitigating evidence that could have convinced jurors to give Ross life in prison rather than a death sentence.
Defense attorney Don Vernay also asked the justices to put off the execution so they can clarify what he said were conflicts in high court rulings involving similar cases.
Tomee Heining, an assistant Texas attorney general, said the arguments were without merit. He said the defense team called witnesses on Ross' behalf and managed an "admirable mitigation defense" even though Ross had insisted his family not cooperate with his trial lawyers.
"Ross cannot interfere with trial counsel's strategy and later claim deficient performance," Heining told the high court.
As of Wednesday, the high court had not weighed in on the case.
Ross, from St. Louis, received his undergraduate degree from Central Missouri State University and came to Lubbock in 1997. Prosecutors said the slaying was the culmination of a feud between Ross and McVade, his girlfriend's sister. Investigators said Birdsall, who was introduced to McVade that evening and accompanied her to Ross' apartment to pick up her sister, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Court documents suggest Birdsall had been looking for a prostitute, and that a friend of McVade introduced him to her.
Ross initially was questioned later in the day when a bicyclist spotted the bodies in the car. He acknowledged arguing and threatening McVade and of wearing latex gloves, but said the gloves were to protect his hands while cleaning with bleach.
Evidence showed Ross was evasive when asked about the slayings, telling a detective that if authorities had the evidence they said they had, "you have the truth." And on a taped conversation following his arrest, Ross from jail told his mother he needed a lawyer because he "might have" been involved in the double slaying.
"It was the closest thing we had to a confession," Matt Powell, the Lubbock County district attorney who prosecuted the case, said last week. "This was a guy working on his doctorate degree in architecture. This is just a waste all the way around."
Prosecutors believed the slain pair was ambushed in an alley behind Ross' apartment after Ross ordered McVade's sister to leave. Birdsall's blood and glass shards from the shattered front windows of his car were in the alley. A shell casing found there matched casings inside Birdsall's car.
Prosecutors theorized 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.
Evidence showed that, in 1997, Ross pleaded guilty to felony assault and stealing a motor vehicle and successfully completed anger management counseling and probation.
At least six other Texas prisoners have execution dates set for the coming months, including one later this month. On Tuesday, John Quintanilla was executed for killing a 60-year-old South Texas man during a holdup.