BRADENTON --- When Blaine Ross crept into his parents' bedroom as they slept and fatally bludgeoned them with a baseball bat, he gave up his right to live, a judge said Friday.
"You have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited the right to live at all," Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas told Ross, as he sentenced him to die for murdering his parents, Richard and Kathleen Ross, in the family's East Manatee home.Ross, 25, found guilty in April for the Jan. 7, 2004, murders, will be transported to death row, the judge said, where he will stay until executed by lethal injection.
He is the first person in Manatee County to be sentenced to death in almost 19 1/2 years.
Condemned prisoners are housed either at the Florida State Prison in Starke or Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, according to the Florida Department of Corrections Web site.
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Next in the case comes an appeal. All death penalty cases are automatically appealed.
Carolyn Schlemmer, one of Ross' attorneys, said she is convinced that because of legal issues particular to this case, and the death penalty in general, Ross will never be executed.
A jury convicted Ross of using an aluminum baseball bat to kill his parents. That same jury then recommended by an 8-4 vote, that Ross receive the death penalty.
Under state law, Nicholas had the final say.
During the sentencing hearing at the Manatee County Courthouse, Ross showed no emotion when the judge announced his fate.
Although the courtroom was almost full, none of Ross' family members attended the hearing. During the penalty phase of his trial, all of Ross' family members who testified said they wanted him to live.
At the time of the murders, Ross was 21, jobless and living with his parents in the 3900 block of 57th Drive East.
Testimony showed that Ross went into his parents' bedroom during the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2004 and killed them while they slept. After the slayings, he took his mother's bank card and staged a clumsy burglary at the family's home.
"The court is aware of the grave responsibility of its sentencing decision and its enormous impact," Nicholas said.
Nicholas acknowledged it had taken some time for him to make his ruling on Ross' fate --- about 6 1/2 months, since the jury made its recommendation.
The judge said he considered the case's aggravating and mitigating factors, with "great length and great care."
Nicholas handed down two death sentences, one for each of the victims. He also sentenced Ross to 15 years in prison for robbery.
"They were just sentences for terrible deeds," Prosecutors Art Brown said as he walked away from the courtroom.
Adam Tebrugge, one of Ross' three public defenders, expressed disappointment with the judge's decision.
"The sentence imposed compounds the tragedy of the case," he said.
Aggravating factors presented by prosecutors included the manner of the victims' deaths and that Ross committed the crime for financial gain. Mitigating factors presented by defense attorneys included Ross' age, his insignificant criminal history and his cooperation with authorities.
Ultimately, Nicholas said, the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating ones.
"The scales of life and death tilt unquestionably to the side of death," Nicholas said.
Whether Ross killed his parents expecting to get an inheritance or to obtain his mother's bank card, "the court cannot be certain," Nicholas said.
"But there is proof he did it for pecuniary gain," he said.
The judge also ruled Ross' drug use may have interfered with his ability to think clearly before he killed his parents, but found Ross still knew what he did was wrong.
"He manipulated his parents' lifeless bodies by placing ropes around their necks," then staging the burglary, Nicholas said.
Schlemmer said she looks forward to filing an appeal, because there are "significant legal issues that need to be addressed in the case.
"There are so many issues with the death penalty going on . . . this is never going to happen," Schlemmer said.
The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to conclude next year a review of whether lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Constitution.
The review, prompted by a Kentucky death-penalty case, is focusing on what most people have long believed is the best way to execute prisoners.
After 1,099 executions since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, there's been an unusual lull in the nation's death chambers. There have been only 42 executions so far this year, the fewest since 1994.
Florida is one of 37 states that allow the death penalty. Lethal injections have been used in 85 percent of the executions since 1976. The remaining prisoners were put to death by methods including electrocution and gas chamber.
University of Florida law Professor Christopher Slobogin argued that chances Ross escapes execution are slim.
"Unless there is a strong appeals issue, he'll probably be executed within eight to 12 years," Slobogin said. "What's going on with the Supreme Court now is just a blip."
It's conceivable though, Slobogin said, that the death penalty will eventually be eliminated.
"Slowly, but surely, but I think states in the South are last in line because it's always been very popular in the South. So it will be a very long time before it's eliminated in this part of the country."
Ross' sentencing was the latest development in one of three recent Manatee County murder cases involving men who killed multiple family members.
A judge in August sentenced Richard Henderson Jr. to four life prison terms, for the 2005 Thanksgiving Day slayings of his parents, grandmother and younger brother in their Myakka City home.
Also, Clifford Davis awaits trial for allegedly killing two family members in December 2005. Authorities say Davis confessed to killing his mother, Stephanie Ann Davis, 43, and grandfather, Joel C. Hill, 77, in the Wares Creek apartment he shared with his mother.
The last person sentenced to death in Manatee County was Daniel Burns, who fatally shot trooper Jeffrey Young in 1987. He was sentenced in June 1988.
As of Friday, there were 385 inmates on Florida's death row, according to FDC's Web site.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, there have been 64 executions in Florida, according to the Web site. The average length of stay for the death row population is 14 years. Forty-five is the average age of inmates on death row.