Convicted prowler paroled; Williams women past victims

James S. Ross, convicted in 1995 of breaking into the rooms of sleeping Williams students, was paroled Dec. 9, 1999. Ross, formerly of Williamsville, N.Y., had served five and a half years of a 12 to 15 year sentence. He was released in Shirley, Mass.

A jury convicted Ross on April 26, 1995, on three counts of breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony, one count of burglary-assault on an occupant, two counts of breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony, one count of assault and battery and one count of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.

The prowling incidents occurred Oct. 22-23, 1993. Ross entered several Williams dormitories. First, he was confronted by a male student. He was then found in the common rooms of residential suites. On two separate occasions female students escorted him from the building. At 5:30 a.m. Ross entered the room of a sleeping female student. She awoke to find him touching her breast. Ross then fled the room. At 7 a.m., a female student reported seeing Ross standing over the bed of her sleeping roommate. Minutes later, Ross entered the room of another sleeping female student. He proceeded to touch her back and foot.

A week later, Ross was seen on campus holding a copy of the Williams facebook. That day, a Vermont state trooper stopped Ross for a traffic violation to find that Ross had both a facebook and a credit card that was not his. When the trooper ran a check on the card, he discovered it belonged to a Williams student, which led the trooper to contact the Williamstown Police.

The students affected by the prowling incidents all identified Ross as the man they had seen. However, Ross pleaded not guilty to the charges. Representing himself at his trial, he said, “There are some instances where the defendant is not involved. The reason the defendant is before you now is because he is innocent of some of the charges.” Ross also claimed that the police “conducted their investigation improperly.” Ross was convicted of eight charges involving six students.

First Assistant District Attorney David F. Capeless requested a lengthy sentence for Ross. At the sentencing, Capeless said Ross’ assaults deeply affected the students involved. Capeless said the student whose breast was touched suffered from “raging anger and depression” after the incidents.

In addition to imposing the 12 to 15 year sentence, Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup sentenced Ross to five years’ probation. Ross was instructed that upon his release from prison he must seek psychiatric counseling, stay away from college campuses and not contact any of the victims.

Ross was retried in 1998 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the prosecution had not worked hard enough to get a key witness to testify at the 1995 trial. The prosecution had used a videotaped deposition as evidence because a witness was overseas at the time of the trial. The prosecution had not asked the witness if she would be willing to return to the U.S. to testify nor had it offered to pay for her airfare for returning to the country. Just before the new trial was to start in Berkshire Superior Court, Ross pleaded guilty to the original charges.

Jean Thorndike, director of Security, expressed her concern that Ross may return to the Williams campus. She also stressed that students must play a role in ensuring their own safety.

“Locking room doors is so important. Ross was just walking into female students’ rooms. They were unlocked, and he was opening the door, walking right in and touching them, fondling them. Without that line of defense of locking your door, you are subject to become a victim by anybody who wants to step into your room while you’re sleeping,” Thorndike said.

“In some of the [first-year] entry talks we have asked the students how many actually lock their rooms and take precautionary measures, and in a group of 10 to 15, if there are a couple of hands that go up, that’s typical. We’re really trying to drive the message home that there are basic steps that can be taken to prevent crime,” said David Boyer, assistant director of Security.

Ross, a white male with thin build, is in his late 40s. He has dark brown to gray hair, ruddy complexion and is approximately 5’10”. He has been known to wear glasses.

Ross was previously convicted on similar charges for incidents that occurred at Amherst College and a preparatory school in Easthampton. At the time of his sentencing in 1995, Ross had spent 13 of the last 15 years incarcerated.

Information used in this article was compiled from The Berkshire Eagle, The North Adams Transcript and The Advocate.