It had been a congenial chat considering the circumstances. Gary Alan Eberly sat in a small interrogation room as a Wednesday night in November 2013 turned to Thanksgiving morning. He clutched a portrait of his wife and conversed calmly for hours with two Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives who wanted to know how Rhonda Jones came to be found dead in the backyard shed of the couple’s Foothill Farms home.
Then, alone with his thoughts during a break in the interview, Eberly asked “Why?” and recited the Lord’s Prayer, asking aloud for the Lord to watch over Jones and his family.
Eberly and a Sacramento Superior Court jury at his murder trial Thursday watched his nearly three-hour interview with detectives after he called dispatchers to report he had found his wife’s body Nov. 27, 2013, in their cluttered shed. Eberly had told detectives that Jones, 51, had gone missing Nov. 19 after they had an argument, and he had not seen her until discovering her body. He did not file a missing person report or contact authorities before the 911 call to report finding her body.
Eberly told the detectives about the friends he’d recently lost to illness, his rocky marriage, the grim discovery of his wife’s body.
“I said, ‘It’s Rhonda. I know what she looks like,’ ” he says on the video. He told the detectives he initially thought she was asleep. “I touched her, and she’s cold. I’ve never felt a dead body before, and she’s cold.”
Eberly said his first call upon finding his wife was to a friend. “She said, ‘You need to call the cops right away.’ ”
Investigators said the woman’s body was covered in blankets and pieces of bubble wrap similar to a large roll of the plastic found in the home’s garage. Eberly said he didn’t understand why the bubble wrap was on his wife’s body. Later, Eberly reacted with surprise when the detectives told him a plastic bag was attached to her head.
Eberly and Jones had known each other for 23 years, he told the detectives on the video, but their marriage hadn’t been easy. They argued. Sheriff’s officials at the time said the couple had “a long history of domestic disputes” that brought deputies to their door.
Sometimes, after a row, Jones would leave for days, even months, at a time, but always returned to their Glide Court home, Eberly told the detectives. Days before her death, Eberly said she told him she was leaving for good.
Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning, and Sheriff’s Detective Ken Clark had more questions for Eberly.
“You knew you were going to be a suspect in this case. Your wife is deceased on your property. But I’m 100 percent sure of this: You love Rhonda. There is no past tense. She’s a part of this puzzle, but there’s so much more to it, if you can tell me why you’re not the person” responsible for Jones’ death.
Eberly responded by pleading for the detectives’ help.
“I need your help. I don’t know who or why,” Eberly said. “I hope you’ll figure it out.”
Eberly was arrested later that morning, Nov. 28, 2013, in his wife’s death and booked in Sacramento County jail as others were preparing for their holiday meal. He has been in county custody ever since.
Testimony will continue before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny.