Trial reveals details of Ed Ross murder

"Photo: Angel Fernandez did the killing in the murder of Ed Ross.A former South Whidbey man who was murdered last October died at the hands of at least two men who were part of a local methamphetamine distribution network.Information released this month by the Cowlitz County Prosecutor's Office shows that the murder victim, Ed Ross, was actively involved in the drug trade at the time of his death. His killers, say prosecutors, included a man who collected his drug debts and one of the dealers who purchased drugs from him on a regular basis.A July 21-27 trial in Cowlitz County sent Angel Fernandez, 24, to prison for life with no chance of parole for his role in Ross' death on Oct. 10, 1999. Paul Sarkis, Jr., of Langley, and Jesse Osalde, both 19, were sentenced to 21 years in prison. A fourth person, TaLee Coulter, 20, of Mukilteo, was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping kidnap Ross and a female companion.Prosecutors say the crime itself stemmed from a combination of greed and drug use. Ross' kidnappers and killers were high on methamphetamines throughout much of the three-day period leading up to the murder. They were also trying to get money and drugs from Ross.On Oct. 9, 1999, Ross and his 17-year-old female companion, Catherine Fischer, were in line to board the ferry in Mukilteo when Ross received a cellular phone call from Fernandez. According to Jim Stonier, Cowlitz County prosecuting attorney, Fernandez later admitted to being a debt collector for Ross, while Sarkis said he sold drugs supplied to him by Ross. On the day of the kidnapping, Fernandez wanted to get some drugs and money from Ross. In the phone call, Fernandez tried to convince Ross to meet him at a Mukilteo location. At the time of the call, Fernandez was in a Ford Explorer parked near the ferry line. He, along with companions Paul Sarkis, Jr., TaLee Coulter and Jesse Osalde, could see Ross' car from where they were parked.Ross refused to meet Fernadez. Three minutes later, according to the prosecutor, Fernandez and Osalde appeared next to Ross' car, climbed into the back seat, displayed a pistol and a large knife, then told Ross to pull out of the ferry line. They also took Ross' 45-caliber pistol. Ross was forced to drive to a Snohomish County location and was followed by Sarkis and Coulter in the Explorer. At that location, Fernandez took Ross to the Explorer and told Sarkis to drive to Deception Pass. Coulter and Osalde drove back to Mukilteo, still holding Fischer.Later that night, Coulter and Osalde used methamphetamines at Coulter's house. They kept Fischer captive until late in the evening. Eventually, they took her to her parents' home and let her out. Osalde threatened Fischer's life, telling her she could not say anything about what happened that day.Meanwhile, Fernandez, Sarkis, and Ross drove down the length of Whidbey Island, making a stop at a known drug user's home.Later, they traveled to Mukilteo on the ferry and stopped at Fernandez' house. While there, they received a call from Coulter and Osalde, who told them that Ross' car had broken down. Sarkis, Fernandez, and Ross drove to pick them up. They stripped Ross' car of anything valuable, then drove to Coulter's house. Once there, they secured Ross to a pole inside the house with duct tape.The next day, Oct. 10, Sarkis, Osalde, and Fernandez loaded Ross back into the Explorer and headed for Cowlitz County. During the drive, said prosecutor Stonier, the three kidnappers smoked crystal methamphetamine. Ross slept through much of the trip. Once in Cowlitz County, the four men drove to Rose Valley Road, a 17-mile-long rural roadway. Eventually, they turned off the road at a property owned by Fernandez' ex-father-in-law. They drove along a narrow, muddy drive on the property until the Explorer got stuck.At that point, the four men got out of the vehicle and began a two-hour search for drugs that Fernandez said were buried on the property. Stonier said that part of the story is a bit strange.A lot of these stories people on drugs come up with don't make a lot of sense to you and me, he said.During the search, Osalde shot one of the guns five times, claiming that he had been shooting at birds. He and Sarkis eventually went back to the Explorer while Fernandez, armed with an 8-inch knife, took Ross into a clump of bushes and trees. Minutes later, according to Osalde's and Sarkis' testimony, Ross came running out of the woods covered in blood. He crashed against the Explorer and fell to the ground. Osalde followed close behind. When he reached Ross, he kicked him and stomped on his head. Then, he thrust the knife into Ross' chest twice.Fernandez then ordered Osalde and Sarkis to help carry the still struggling but incoherent Ross back into the woods. The trio began to cover Ross with dirt. Sarkis went back to the Explorer, claiming he had heard something in that vicinity. Osalde and Fernandez followed moments later. By that point, Ross was dead, having suffered 18 knife wounds including a single thrust to one of his lungs -- the wound that killed him. His body exhibited a total of six chest wounds when it was found by law enforcement. In addition, his throat had been slashed.After the slaying, Stonier said, Fernandez was unrepentant and gloried in the murder. According to Stonier, Fernandez had this to say to Sarkis and Osalde: I love it when I take somebody's soul.After the killing, Osalde fled to North Carolina. He eventually turned himself in to authorities there. Sarkis and Fernandez were captured two days later at a Mukilteo Taco Bell. TaLee Coulter was arrested at work in the days following the murder.Stonier said the physical evidence and testimony provided by Katherine Fischer was so overwhelming that the prosecution did not have to use testimony from the defendants. He said that testimony was too self-serving. Stonier credited the Mukilteo Police Department for its outstanding investigation of the crime. He also gave credit to the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office. "

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