Kimberly Ann Ross, 38, was sentenced to life in prison by Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler for her part in the Valentine's Day murder of her husband, Bill, who was shot three times while he slept in his bed at their Wartrace Highway home.
The murder hearing was conducted in the Marshall County Courthouse where Judge Crigler was scheduled to preside Wednesday. The victim and the three defendants charged with his death were residents of Lewisburg early this year and/or late last year.
Bill Ross' murder was planned by his wife, Marshall County High School graduate Justin Young, 19, and Ashley Cook, 24, District Attorney General Chuck Crawford said. Kimberly provided the gun. Young loaded it and held a ladder for Cook while she shot Bill through the window to make his death look like part of a home invasion.
The ruse was only briefly accepted by the law enforcement agencies, Crawford said. Young and the widow were left, loosely bound so a 911 call could be made. After Cook fled, Bill Ross died "in spite of attempts by medical personnel," Crawford told Crigler to provide the factual basis for Kimberly Ross' guilty plea.
She planned to take Young with her to Oklahoma and provide him a place to live, Crawford continued, substantiating information received from Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce about Kimberly cheating on her husband.
She was engaged to marry Terry Van Aber of Tulsa, Okla., a man who had apparently wired nearly $250,000 to Kimberly over nearly three years through Western Union and other cash counters in Lewisburg, according to Boyce and documents in Kimberly's court file.
"He didn't know she was already married," Boyce said.
Why Kimberly wanted Bill dead was explained by her statement to other defendants, Crawford said during an interview after the widow's sentencing hearing.
"She told the other defendants in the case that he had to go and she couldn't divorce him because she would lose everything," Crawford said.
Everything, presumably, was all her worldly possessions, according to comments among attorneys close to the case.
On Monday, Boyce predicted the widow would "settle at the last minute."
"Dramatic developments," according to Kimberly Ross' defense attorney, Robert Marlow, prompted the widow to plead guilty.
Chief among those developments was Young's decision to testify.
"We offered him a deal to testify against Kimberly," Crawford said.
"That," Marlow said, "had a tremendous impact on the trial strategy."
Under state law, life in prison with the chance of parole means the convict must spend at least 51 years incarcerated. Only then is a parole board hearing possible and there's no guarantee of parole.
Ross will be 89 years old when she's eligible for a parole hearing.
"Mrs. Ross got what she deserved," Crawford said, thanking the Bedford County Sheriff's Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation "for their good work that made this conviction possible."
A hearing for Young's guilty plea and sentencing has not been set and it won't until after Cook's case is resolved, according to attorneys close to the case.
"Ashley Cook, through her attorney, had expressed a willingness to testify against Kimberly Ross," Crawford said.
Without a plea bargain in place for Cook, the prosecutor refrained from commenting further.
Assistant Public Defender Jack Dearing represents Cook. Her trial is set for January, but Dearing has agreed with the state to have the trial reset for another date that has not been selected since the issue hasn't been presented to Crigler.
Cook, Ross and Young were in custody before sunset on Feb. 14, charged with first-degree murder. All of their cases appear to be over within nine months except for final adjudication.
Tammy Ross of Limestone Avenue, Lewisburg, sister of the victim, watched the hearing with friends and relatives including her daughter, Angel, who is carrying her first child. Conceived on Bill Ross' birthday, May 31, the baby is due on Valentine's Day, according to the murder victim's sister.