Deputy Suspected of Murder Denies Guilt, Attorney Reports

Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who is a suspect in the slayings of three South-Central prostitutes denies any involvement in their deaths, according to an attorney who spoke to the man in jail Sunday.

Although few new details about the case emerged Sunday, a Los Angeles police official tried to spike speculation among sheriff's deputies that ballistics evidence had failed to conclusively link a gun found in Rickey S. Ross' car to bullets that killed three prostitutes. The ballistics report is the major piece of evidence cited by Los Angeles police as the justification for Ross' arrest.

"We wouldn't put an active-duty sheriff's deputy in jail for homicide on an 'iffy' make," the Los Angeles police officer said.

Ross, 40, is a narcotics investigator who has been with the Sheriff's Department for 18 years.

The three women he is suspected of killing--Judith Simpson, 27; Cynthia Walker, 35, and Latanya Johnson, 24--are among up to 12 prostitutes who have been killed during the last four years.

Ross' arrest took place hours after he was stopped in a routine traffic check in South-Central Los Angeles. Driving erratically, Ross was in the company of a prostitute and apparently under the influence of cocaine, police said. The unidentified woman said Ross had frightened her, according to police.

A search of the trunk of Ross' undercover car allegedly revealed two handguns, including one that police said killed the three prostitutes.

But some officials in the Sheriff's Department said Sunday that the evidence linking Ross to the killings may not be clear-cut. The gun that police say was used in the killings that was allegedly found in Ross' car trunk was badly rusted from rain water that had leaked in, according to the officials.

Damage to the gun, reportedly a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, was so extensive that Los Angeles police ballistics experts were having difficulty in determining whether the weapon is the one used to kill the three prostitutes, the deputies said.

'Pretty Shaky'

"This case is going to be made or broken on the ballistics," said one sheriff's official, "and from what we hear, the ballistics are pretty shaky."

However, a Los Angeles police investigator close to the case reiterated Sunday that a "positive comparison" had been made of bullets fired from the gun taken from the car trunk and those recovered from the bodies of the three prostitutes.

Jay Jaffe, the attorney Ross spoke with Sunday, said he hoped police officials had not rushed to arrest Ross to quell criticism about the department's tactics in investigating the deaths of prostitutes.

"I hope that he is not the scapegoat for what appeared to be public pressure brought on the Police Department to come up with a suspect," he said. Jaffe said Ross used "poor judgment--being in a location he should not have been and with a prostitute."

Faces Firing

Sheriff's officials said Sunday that if Ross is formally charged with murder, his termination from the department will likely be swift. Prosecutors are expected to say whether he will be arraigned today.

Ross, who is being held in an 8-by-10-foot isolation cell at the Los Angeles Police Department's headquarters, is not a member of the union that represents deputies--about 20% of the deputies in the 7,000-member department are not. As such, Ross will have to pay for his own legal defense.

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