They could find no motive, and investigators never recovered a murder weapon.
Nonetheless, after a week of deliberation, a Sacramento Superior Court jury on Monday found Ryan Douglas Roberts guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of 13-year-old Jessica Funk-Haslam in March 2012.
A gasp, then deep, wracking sobs erupted from Roberts’ sister Shannon as she bolted from the courtroom when the verdict was read before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gerrit Wood, followed by Roberts’ mother Tammy Roberts. Ryan Roberts, 25, clad in a dark suit and seated next to his attorney, Jennifer Mouzis, appeared to offer no expression, but closed his eyes and looked down momentarily as jurors, one by one, affirmed his guilt and found he had used a knife to kill Jessica.
Jury forewoman Nancy Daley addressed reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict. She said she and her fellow jurors felt they had no choice but to find Roberts guilty, given the evidence.
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“We were comfortable that we looked at every piece of evidence presented by either side,” Daley said. “We weren’t there to serve the defendant. We weren’t there to serve the prosecutor. We were there to serve justice.”
Roberts faces a maximum potential sentence of 26 years to life in prison. Sentencing is set for Oct. 23.
Tara Haslam, Jessica’s mother, gave a brief statement to reporters outside the courtroom, thanking law enforcement offices and investigators “who stuck through this case.” Mouzis and prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall left without comment.
Both mothers, Tara Haslam on one side of the courtroom, Tammy Roberts on the other, were steadfast presences throughout. Haslam sat stoically, while Roberts listened intently, jotting meticulous notes of the proceedings.
The case drew national attention at its outset with the grim discovery of young Jessica’s body March 6, 2012 in a baseball diamond’s dugout at Rosemont Community Park. Jessica, a student at Albert Einstein Middle School in the shadow of the sprawling park, was beaten, stabbed repeatedly and asphyxiated, authorities said.
The case sent shock waves through the Rosemont area and law enforcement who shouldered the task of solving the crime. A wide-ranging investigation involving hundreds of law enforcement officers and numerous tips culminated with Roberts’ arrest in August 2013.
Investigators, then later prosecutors at trial, built their case largely on DNA evidence lifted from cigarette butts they said were smoked by Roberts and Jessica in and near the park dugout where Jessica was killed. They said the cigarettes and DNA evidence on the girl’s belt tied Roberts, who frequented Rosemont Community Park, to the girl’s murder.
A friend testified last month in the trial’s early days that he and Roberts saw Jessica at the park as dusk was approaching the day before her body was found, telling the girl to head home as they left the park. Prosecutors say Roberts later returned to the park where he found Jessica, then killed her in the dugout.
But Roberts’ defense attorney maintained prosecutors had the wrong man. In her passionate, at-times defiant closing argument last week, Mouzis said her client “is an innocent man, not because of a preponderance of doubt. He is innocent because he is innocent.”
Mouzis argued that a murder weapon was never recovered, that DNA evidence gathered by investigators was either inconclusive or ruled out her client, and that investigators found no evidence that Jessica had been sexually assaulted.
Throughout the weeks-long proceedings, Mouzis argued another man, a then-35-year-old transient she described in court documents as a methamphetamine addict with a lengthy criminal history and an obsession with knives, was responsible for Jessica’s violent death.
Mouzis alleged the man knew Jessica, occasionally stayed with the family of one of Jessica’s closest friends and stayed at a motel near the park.
In a motion filed before trial, Mouzis argued the man was unable to account for his whereabouts during the time the killing was believed to have been committed; adding that witnesses overheard a telephone call between the man and Jessica’s friend discussing the three of them meeting at the Rosemont park the night Jessica was killed.
The man was questioned by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Major Crimes investigators in the days after Jessica’s body was found, as was Jessica’s friend, who also was questioned intensely by investigators and later testified for prosecutors after a grant of immunity.
On Monday, forewoman Daley said jurors “had no evidence of a motive specifically” in Jessica’s death and gave Mouzis’ theory of the other man’s involvement in the girl’s killing “much consideration,” but that ultimately jurors could not find evidence to support the defense theory.
“It fell apart,” Daley said.