Bernard Ross and Eva Mae Boston quarreled frequently, both while they lived together and after having separated. Those quarrels often involved threats by Ross that he would kill Boston.
Angry that Boston was now living with another man, Ross, 33, carried out that threat on November 11, 1961, when he went to Boston’s Blair Heights, Clairton home, shot and killed her and her son, Daniel Boston, Jr., and shot and wounded her son, Russell Boston.
Soon after fleeing the scene, Ross called the police to see whether the shootings had been fatal. Police misled Ross, telling him the victims were alive. Ross was arrested at McKeesport Hospital when he arrived to see the victims. The murder weapon was found in his car.
Ross was tried only for the murder of Eva Mae Boston. Facing eyewitness testimony from Russell Boston and a friend of Russell’s, and his own incriminating statements, Ross was found guilty on April 27, 1962, and sentenced to death on May 6, 1963. He had a prior conviction for aggravated assault in North Carolina in 1951.
Ross’s state appeal, which raised a series of technical points, was rejected (Commonwealth v. Ross, 413 Pa. 35, 1963) after the court found that “the evidence to sustain the conviction and sentence is not only sufficient but is also exceptionally strong and convincing.”
His federal habeas appeal was likewise rejected (Ross v. Maroney, 372 F.2d 53. 1967) after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state.
With the death penalty coming under increased legal scrutiny in the county, state, and nation, Ross’s execution was repeatedly postponed. Though his commutation request was rejected by the Board of Pardons on March 29, 1968, the prospects of his execution were ultimately overwhelmed by growing political and legal sentiment in opposition to the death penalty.
The legal challenge to the death penalty peaked in 1972, when the United States Supreme Court’s Furman v. Georgia (408 US 238, 1972) decision invalidated all death sentences.
Another of Ross’s appeals under consideration at the time became the landmark case through which Furman was applied to Pennsylvania. In a brief decision (Commonwealth v. Ross 449 Pa. 103, 1972), the court ruled that by virtue of Furman, Ross’s death sentence and all of the other twenty-four death sentences in the state were invalid. With that decision on October 4, 1972, Ross was resentenced to life imprisonment.
Over the course of the 1970s, Ross moved between Western Penitentiary, other state prisons, and various state hospitals for the criminally insane. His requests for clemency were rejected.
Ross, who was born in North Carolina, and Boston, who was born in Alabama, had lived together between 1954 and 1961, though each was married to someone else. They had two younger children together; the children involved in this incident were from a previous relationship.
Ross’s erratic and violent behavior may have been related to a serious head injury he suffered in a car crash in Clairton on September 4, 1957.