BRADENTON --- Blaine Ross could find out next week whether he lives or dies for beating his parents to death with a baseball bat.
A jury Friday found Ross, 24, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery for the Jan. 7, 2004, bludgeoning deaths of his parents, Richard and Kathleen Ross.The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for more than 10 1/2 hours Friday before handing up its verdict.
Ross, wearing a light gray shirt and dark gray pants, stared straight ahead as the verdict was announced. His sister and another family member, sitting in the gallery, cried silently.
After the jury left the courtroom, defense attorney Carolyn Schlemmer put her arm around Ross.
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Attorneys declined to comment because the trial is not over. The jury will return Tuesday to hear testimony and arguments in the punishment phase of the trial.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
At the time of the crime, Ross was 21, jobless and living at home with his parents at the family's home on 57th Drive East in the Lionshead neighborhood in East Manatee.
Prosecutor Art Brown, during closing statements, told jurors Ross killed his parents because they cut him off financially and told him to grow up.
"The evidence points to Blaine Ross as the author of his parents' deaths. Violent, brutal, vicious deaths, all committed out of greed, because he didn't want to grow up and take financial responsibility," Brown said.
Prior to the murders, Blaine and Kathleen Ross had signed a personal contract in which she agreed to lend him $1,400. A condition of the contract included that he pay it back and never again ask for money.
Kim Sanford, Ross' sister, testified her mother often drew up contracts like that. She also said that some time before her parents' death, her brother had taken their mother's banking card. But he returned it after his mother found out.
On Jan. 7, 2004, Ross dialed 911 and told authorities he'd found his parents dead in their bedroom, and the family's home, it appeared, had been burglarized.
Ross killed his parents with a baseball bat as they slept in their bedroom. Any one of the numerous blows to their heads and necks would have been enough to kill them, a medical examiner testified during the two-week trial.
After the killings, Ross placed ropes around his parents' necks and staged a clumsy burglary in the home to cover his tracks. Ross took his mother's bank card and tried to withdraw money from her account but was unsuccessful. He also took the bat and either threw it off the DeSoto Bridge into the Manatee River or put it in a Dumpster. Investigators never found the weapon.
During interviews with Manatee County Sheriff's detectives, Ross initially denied the killings but later confessed.
"I could have done this, I could have been angry, but I can't put myself there," Ross said in a videotaped interview with lead Detective William Waldron.
He blamed his memory loss on alcohol, marijuana and Xanax he'd used in the days prior to the killings.
"I feel like I had just woken up, I'm standing there and I didn't know. . . . It took me a second to realize what happened when I had my hand on the bat," he told Waldron, who said an additional motive for Ross' crime was his unhappiness with his parents' pending divorce.
In letters Ross wrote to his ex-girlfriend, Erin Dodds, and his sister, he apologized for taking life and for what had happened to his parents.
"Can you forgive me," he wrote in a letter to his sister, after he'd been arrested.
Schlemmer said in her closing argument that the jailhouse letters were written after detectives fed Ross the facts of the case, and that he went along with a scenario they described.
Ross' defense team contended his confession was coerced, and that there was no physical evidence that "reliably and conclusively" linked Ross to the crime scene.
Schlemmer asked jurors to disregard Ross' statements to police.
That's because forensic psychologist Greg DeClue testified that Ross' admission was the product of an "internalized pressured confession," when a person actually comes to believe he committed a crime.
Detectives gave Ross tools to create a false memory of the slayings, DeClue said.
Crime scene technicians, during trial, testified it looked as if a "burglary" had been staged because clothing was still folded and neatly stacked after an intruder had rifled through drawers.
Starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, jurors will hear more testimony and arguments at the Manatee County Courthouse before deciding whether to recommend that Ross be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
The decision is ultimately up to presiding Judge Edward Nicholas.