Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge Diana Moreland may have saved the life of Blaine Ross on Thursday when she accepted his offer of life in prison with no chance at parole for the murder of his parents in 2004.
Ross, who made the plea offer at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Moreland’s courtroom, faced a retrial beginning Monday where the state was again looking for the death penalty for the baseball bat bludgeoning of Richard and Kathleen Ross, said prosecutor Art Brown.
But Moreland agreed to the no contest plea for the murders in exchange for mandatory life sentences with no possible chance at parole. He also agreed to 15 years for third-degree robbery in the case.
“You understand that you will be spending the rest of your life in prison,” Moreland said to Ross, who was in a dark gray jail jumpsuit and shackles.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ross, wearing a crew cut and still looking teenaged.
“Has anyone suggested to you that life isn’t anything else than all your days in prison?”
“No, ma’am,” Ross replied politely.
When told he could make a statement, Ross, after conferring with his lead public defender, Carolyn Schlemmer, said the following: “I would like, first, to apologize to my family.”
He choked up when saying, “my family,” but regained his composure quickly.
“I have taken something dear from you and I know this,” Ross continued. “I don’t know what happened. I am sorry. There are more people involved. Michael Young. He killed my mom. I killed my dad. It’s not an excuse, but I was on cocaine and Xanax weeks before. But I didn’t man up and stop it.
“I was manipulated by Erin,” Ross continued. “It wasn’t my idea to kill my parents. I think about this every day of my life.”
Michael Young and Erin Dodds were friends of Ross, Brown said after the hearing.
When told by a somewhat surprised Moreland that he could present these new facts in a new trial, Ross said he didn’t want to put his family through another trial.
Brown later said he was totally taken by surprise by Ross naming Young and Dodds in his statement.
Brown said he will confer with law enforcement concerning Ross’s remarks.
“Ross had tried to bargain with detectives about things he knew before and never mentioned this,” Brown said. “He never indicated anything about Young in his confession. As for Dodds, she was 14 or 15-years-old then. It’s hard to believe he could be manipulated.”
A jury had convicted Ross, now 29, in May 2007 of first-degree murder and robbery in the slaying of his parents in their East Manatee home in 2004.
Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas had sentenced Ross to death that November after a jury recommended the punishment.
But in May, 2010, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Ross, saying investigators mishandled his interrogation.
“The Supreme Court eliminated a portion of the interview that was important to the penalty phase,” Brown said. “It would have made it more difficult but we were going ahead with the death penalty.”