HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Black, former Texas Tech graduate student was executed Thursday for a double slaying in Lubbock a dozen years ago. This was the 8th African American executed this year in Texas. There have been a total of 10 executions so far in Texas, the nation’s most active capital punishment state.
Vaughn Ross, 41, was condemned for the January 2001 fatal shootings of an 18-year-old woman with whom he had been feuding and an associate dean at the university who was with her at the time.

No relatives of friends of Ross were there for the execution, yet he told them he loved them, thanked them for their support and urged them to stay strong.

“You know I don’t fear death,” he said, strapped to the death chamber gurney. “I know we weren’t expecting this, but this is what it is. We know the lies that were told against me in court. We know it’s not true.”

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect, Ross took several breaths, then began snoring. He let out a gurgle, snored once more and then stopped all movement. He was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m. CDT, 22 minutes after the lethal drug was injected.

Ross was executed for the slayings of Douglas Birdsall, 53, the associate dean of libraries at Texas Tech University, and Viola Ross McVade. McVade was the sister of Ross’ girlfriend and was not related to the convicted killer.

Authorities believed Birdsall and McVade were ambushed in an alley behind Ross’ apartment after Ross had ordered McVade’s sister to leave. A bicyclist later spotted their bodies in a car in a gully at a Lubbock park.

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.

The execution 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 persuaded jurors to sentence him to life in prison. Assistant Texas Attorney General Tomee Heining argued that 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.

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.”

Birdsall’s blood and glass from shattered windows of his car were found in the alley behind Ross’ apartment, along with 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.
A brother of Birdsall was among people watching the execution through a death chamber window. He declined to speak with reporters.

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.


Michael Graczyk

Associated Press