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Autopsy Shows Napa State Hospital Nurse Was Strangled

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Jess Willard Massey

Jess Willard Massey (Napa County Sheriff)

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NAPA (BCN) – A Napa State Hospital employee who was found dead on hospital grounds Saturday evening died of asphyxia due to strangulation, Napa County sheriff’s Capt. Tracey Stuart said Tuesday morning.

Donna Gross, 54, of Concord, a psychiatric technician, was found by a staff member at about 6:20 p.m. in an enclosed courtyard at the hospital at 2100 Napa-Vallejo Highway in Napa.

Hospital medics tried to revive her but she was pronounced dead at 7:18 p.m., Stuart said.

Napa State Hospital patient Jess Willard Massey, 37, was arrested at the hospital early Sunday morning in connection with the killing. He was scheduled to be arraigned in Napa County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on murder and robbery charges.

Gross had taken a dinner break at about 4:30 p.m. that day. She bought gum at a Target store and checked back in at the hospital at 5:15 p.m., Stuart said.

Stuart said it appears Massey stole jewelry, gum and less than $2 in cash from Gross.

A preliminary autopsy report indicated Gross was strangled. Stuart said investigators believe Massey used his hands and arms to strangle her.

Gross’ watch, two necklaces and her earrings were found in Massey’s room and the gum was found in a trash can on Massey’s ward, Stuart said.

A candlelight vigil will be held for Gross at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the front entrance of the hospital, where she had worked for the past 14 years.

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Brian Myers said Massey has a history of violence against women.

On May 26, 1996, the day Massey was released from Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., he took a bus to Sacramento and was dropped off at a parking garage near the state Capitol, Myers said.

On the fifth floor of the garage, Massey saw a truck he wanted to steal and he waited for the owner, Myers said. When the owner, a female state employee, arrived, Massey attacked her, according to Myers.

“He slit her throat almost ear to ear jumped in the truck and took off,” he said.

The victim survived, and Massey was arrested a few days later at a motel, Myers said.

Massey pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to attempted murder and guilty to sexual battery and carjacking.

He was sent to Atascadero State Hospital with the stipulation that if he were restored to sanity, he would serve 31 years in prison, Myers said.

Massey was at Atascadero State Hospital until he was transferred to Napa State Hospital in 2000.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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