Man Charged in Mercer Student's Slaying
February 1, 2006

Police made an arrest Tuesday in the fatal Christmas Eve shooting of a 19-year-old debutante in the city's famous downtown historic district, a slaying that triggered a public outcry for a crackdown on crime.

Michael Thorpe, 25, has been charged with murder and aggravated assault with intent to commit armed robbery in the slaying of Jennifer Ross, who was shot during a mugging near Orleans Square hours after attending her debutante ball.

Ross died from the gunshot wound on New Year's Day at the Savannah hospital where her father is an executive vice president.

Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Wilson said investigators connected Thorpe to Ross' slaying through "leads generated out of the community."

"We are absolutely confident" police arrested the right suspect, Wilson said. He added that police expected more arrests in the case, though he would not name any other suspects.

The murder of Ross, a Savannah native who had been studying international business at Mercer University, was the 29th slaying reported by Savannah-Chatham County police in the past year.

"We're really relieved," said Adger Ross, Jennifer Ross' uncle. "We're grieving and this does not change that loss, but we certainly feel safer."

The killing sparked a massive outcry from some of Savannah's most prominent business leaders and friends of Ross' father, Rusty Ross, a senior vice president and attorney for Memorial Health University Medical Center.

It also put a spotlight on an underbelly of crime that mars the picturesque landscape of manicured squares, Spanish-moss draped live oaks and antebellum homes that make downtown Savannah one of the South's top tourism draws.

Ross attended her Christmas Cotillion, her formal introduction as a woman of society in Georgia's oldest city, on Dec. 23 and continued celebrating with friends into the wee hours of Christmas Eve.

Ross and three friends were walking in search of a taxi when three men jumped them near Orleans Square, according to police reports. Ross was shot while one of the men tried to take her purse.

Police got a break in the case Jan. 12 when a tip led them to a gray Ford Taurus that investigators believe the suspects used to flee the shooting.

The car had been stolen from a local auto dealer, Wilson said.

Ross' friends described seeing the men enter a gray Taurus, but Wilson would not say what evidence police had linking the car to the crime.

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