An Appanoose County jury found a Promise City man guilty of first-degree murder Friday, after more than 11 hours of deliberations.
Ethan Landon Davis, 28, of Promise City, was convicted of killing deer hunter Curtis Ross, of Cedar Falls, on Nov. 24, 2017.
The verdict came less than five hours after the jury reported it was nearly deadlocked. Judge Myron Gookin instructed them to keep trying to reach a unanimous verdict.
Around 4 p.m. Friday, Gookin had assembled the attorneys in the case and was preparing to bring the jury back in, presumably to see if the deadlocked remained.
As the court waited, the court attendant reported the jury was seeking more time and felt they could reach a verdict momentarily. As they ultimately entered the courtroom, many of the jurors appeared emotional.
Gookin read their verdict at approximately 4:15 p.m. Friday. Ross’ family breathed an audible sigh of relief.
After parting words were spoken and the jury was dismissed, deputies from the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office cuffed Davis and led him from the courtroom.
Ross’ family hugged and embraced themselves and the prosecutors in the case. There were celebrations for justice, but Ross’ mother noted the verdict means another family has lost their son.
“I almost hate to celebrate it,” Ross’ mother Katie Ingham said after the verdict. “Because Ethan’s life pretty much ended today.”
Katie Ingham said she felt Davis was guilty of the crime, but not even an hour after the verdict, Davis’ mother was on her mind.
“I know what I felt like when I found out my son was gone,” Katie Ingham said with a trembling voice. “So, I can only imagine how she’s feeling.”
Prosecutors presented evidence they said prove Davis killed Ross on Nov. 24, 2017 on public hunting grounds near Rathbun Lake. They presented Davis’ own AR-15 style weapon, which forensics experts said was the one that shot and killed Ross.
The weapon had a splatter of Ross’ blood on two places.
After finding ammunition magazines and containers with Davis’ fingerprints hidden near the scene, authorities drew their attention to Davis.
They obtained a search warrant of the more than 400-acre farm owned by Davis’ parents north of Promise City. The search turned up the AR-15 and other evidence.
Davis, who was already in custody on unrelated charges, was charged with Ross’ murder on Dec. 6, 2017 at the Wayne County Jail.
His attorneys argued that he wasn’t the one that pulled the trigger. Otherwise, they conceded it was Davis’ weapon used to kill Ross.
Prosecutors said Ross was shot 10 times, stabbed upward of 26 times and he had gashes on his legs and neck. They found bullet casings on a hilltop and near Ross’ body, indicating Ross was shot both from afar and up close.
Dr. Michelle Catellier, who performed his autopsy, said she believed many of the wounds were inflicted before death. Many of the stab wounds pierced internal organs, including both lungs, liver and a kidney.
Law enforcement found Ross’ naked body in the water of a creek on the public hunting grounds of Sandy Branch after a seven-hour search.
Davis took the stand Wednesday, saying he was framed for the murder. He said the weapon had been stolen without his knowledge from the back of his Hummer, which had a broken out back windshield.
He testified that he last seen the AR-15 a month and half prior and thought it was still in the back of his vehicle. Davis purchased the AR-15, he said, for his girlfriend at the time in June 2015. He took it from her sometime after they broke up because he had heard she was attempting to sell it to felons and drug dealers.
Davis said he was hiding from the cops when authorities said he killed Ross. Davis had just taken his child from his ex-girlfriend in what was called a “crack house” by Davis’ attorney and a witness who was quoting what Davis had told him.
He claimed he was hiding out on his parent’s property secluded from public roads. He was unable to be reached for approximately 30 hours, as he left his cellphones at a friend’s house. Davis said that was accidental, but prosecutors said it allowed him to be off-the-grid and unable to be tracked or contacted.
Davis showed emotion on the stand, specifically whenever his young child was brought up. His voice became weak as he said he regretted not securing the rifle better.
When the verdict was read, however, he was seen with only a straight stare forward, at times glancing back at his parents and friends in the gallery.
Davis will be sentenced March 18, though first-degree murder convictions carry a mandatory life sentence.
REMEMBERING CURTIS ROSS
Ross was a lady’s man with a good heart and an avid outdoorsman, his mother said Friday.
He struggled to complete high school, but he graduated from AGWSR in 2004.
About a year before he was killed, a business venture Ross was attempting fell through.
In his journal, he wrote: “Some days I swear my life is a movie. If it’s not, it should be. Curveball after curveball: you can’t get mad, you can’t get too happy, you can’t give up. You’re going to get that fastball down the middle sooner or later. Life is full of lessons no matter how long it takes you to learn them.”
That’s what brought him to the place he called Narnia — the public hunting ground in the Sandy Branch area of Rathbun Lake where he was ultimately killed.
“He was always in the woods,” Katie Ingham said. “Either hunting, or fishing, or trapping, or tracking. He just loved to be outside.”
The final deer he snagged was a beauty. His mother now has it on display at her home.
Ross wanted those around him to be happy. He didn’t like conflict or confrontation, his mother said.
“Whenever he knew I was struggling or something, he’d say, ‘Mom, why are you crabby today?’ and then he’d say something like, ‘Well, you know, if it gets too bad I’ve got the reservation at the nursing home all made I just have to drop you off,’” Katie Ingham said. “He liked everybody to be happy and have a good time.”
He would have been a good father.
“Given the chance, he would have been a good dad someday,” Katie Ingham said.
In the months before his killing, Ross was beginning to pick up the construction trade. Things were going well, and he had an agreement for time off during bow hunting season with his new boss, who took Ross under his wing.
“It looked like he had a future in construction, it was starting to head that way,” Ross’ stepfather Mark Ingham said.
His funeral brought individuals from all across the country — people Katie and Mark Ingham didn’t even know.
“Anybody who probably met Curt, liked Curt,” she said. “Unless they were picking on somebody of Curt’s.”
“He always had your back,” Mark Ingham said.
CURT ROSS OUTDOORS
His family has since turned their energy toward a good cause in Ross’ honor. They’ve recently been pushing fundraising with a GoFundMe, an auction and a golf tournament.
The organization, Curt Ross Outdoors, is now a 501(c) (3) charity. Its purpose is to grow hunting and outdoorsmanship with youth.
Katie Ingham said they are currently working to attempt to begin an archery program at Ross’ former high school, AGWSR.
For more information, visit the organization’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CROutdoorsInc/.