The long-sought trial of the man accused of killing a 13-year-old girl in Rosemont Community Park three years ago unfolded Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court, with the defense attorney asserting that prosecutors have the “wrong guy.”
The body of Jessica Funk-Haslam, an eighth-grader at Albert Einstein Middle School, was found March 6, 2012, in the dugout of a baseball diamond at the park by a woman walking her dog. Jessica had been beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated, according to investigators.
The tragedy shook the community and garnered national attention as detectives checked out hundreds of tips in a months-long manhunt by local and federal officials.
Ryan Douglas Roberts, then 23, was eventually arrested in August 2013 on suspicion of killing the girl, after authorities found DNA evidence on a cigarette linking him to the crime.
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On Thursday, defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis cast doubt on the evidence, suggesting that weather conditions hampered the evidence-gathering process.
“Because of some cigarette butts blowing in the wind, they arrest my client,” Mouzis said.
She described the Rosemont area as an “impoverished neighborhood,” noting that it was not unusual for people to pick up partially-smoked cigarettes and finish them.
“It’s the nature of being young and not having money,” Mouzis said.
During opening statements, Eric Kindall, deputy district attorney for Sacramento County, reviewed with jurors the complexities of DNA and chromosomes. He told the jurors they will have to decide the conclusiveness of the DNA evidence on the cigarette butts.
Kindall asked several witnesses to testify Thursday, including Dr. Gregory Reibar, who processed the body as a forensic pathologist for the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office.
Reibar went into great detail about the cause of death, showing diagrams and photos of bruises, stab wounds and other injuries. He testified he found a “hickey” – a bruise caused by lover biting or sucking on the skin – at which point Jessica’s mother, Tara Haslam, gasped.
At times, Haslam cried, despite trying to contain her emotion. She stared at the wall while Reibar reviewed a diagram of the wounds on a projector.
Mouzis alleged that a transient and one of Jessica’s friends were responsible for the slaying.
Jessica left home early in the evening on March 5, 2012, following an argument with her mother and was reported missing the following morning. The DNA tests excluded the transient, according to the prosecutor’s evidence.
Roberts could spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted.