Jurors needed only hours Wednesday to convict Mark Herbert Long of first-degree murder in the January 2018 killing of his wife, Sacramento attorney and advocate Susan Roberts.
Long killed Roberts in her bed at their South Land Park home, hacking at her head with a hammer as she tried in vain to shield herself, Sacramento County prosecutor Caroline Park said in her Tuesday closing argument.
Long then took Roberts’ lifeless body, still in her bedclothes, to the kitchen to begin the gruesome task of dismembering her.
Police made their grisly discovery in the kitchen days later, finding Roberts’ severed legs in a garbage bag. A circular saw Long purchased for the job sat on the kitchen linoleum, still plugged into the wall.
“This is what Mr. Long did,” Park told jurors Tuesday at the end of Long’s murder trial. “This is what Mr. Long did to his wife.”
Jurors were quick to agree, delivering their verdict just before 2 p.m. Wednesday. Long, 60, faces 25 years to life in state prison for Roberts’ murder. Sentencing before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon is Oct. 4.
Long sat expressionless as the jurors were asked one by one to confirm their verdict. In the gallery, Roberts’ brother, Rob, was surrounded by friends and family who reached over to clutch his shoulder in congratulation and support. As the jurors filed out of Balonon’s third-floor courtroom at Sacramento County Courthouse, Roberts stood, clasping his hands in a gesture of silent gratitude.
‘Finally some closure’
“It’s huge,” Rob Roberts said of the jury’s swift verdict. “It’s huge because there’s finally some closure to this. You’ll never get over it, but at least this part of the story is over. He is no longer able to victimize women and he won’t be able to for the rest of his life.”
Long’s murder trial in Susan Roberts’ slaying concluded Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, Long had given his account of the sequence of events, grimly detailing how he fatally fought off an enraged knife-wielding Roberts, then dismembered his wife in an ill-conceived effort to conceal her body.
But for the better part of her hour-long closing argument Tuesday afternoon, Park told jurors how Long ambushed his wife of two years and asked them to convict the 60-year-old contractor of first-degree murder in her death.
Long’s attorney, Sacramento County deputy public defender Stephen Nelson, would later argue that Long was defending himself from attack, saying a first-degree murder charge “makes no sense.”
Nelson argued that what Long did to Roberts’ body afterward was never charged by prosecutors.
“We’re not numb to what he did, (but) he’s charged with homicide,” Nelson said.
But with crime scene photographs of the couple’s living room projected on a courtroom screen, Park told the jury there was no fight, no struggle as Long described Monday. Everything in Roberts’ South Land Park home was in its place, from the Christmas cards on the kitchen table to the dishes in the cupboard.
“Look at these photographs. There is nothing out of place,” Park said. “This was a well-planned out ambush.”
Rob Roberts has his own theory of why Long murdered Susan Roberts. Long was a “life-waster,” who took advantage of his new wife, Rob Roberts said following the afternoon verdict.
“I think he finally found someone vulnerable enough to take into their life,” Rob Roberts said. “When he came to the realization that that wasn’t going to play out, that reality put him over the edge. He just exploded.”
By the morning of Jan. 4, 2018, Long and Roberts’ brief marriage had fallen apart. Long was an unrepentant alcoholic, both attorneys argued, his daily routine of vodka and beer leaving him most nights passed out and sometimes soiled on the sofa.
‘The marriage was ending’
“The marriage was ending. Done. Over. We can see the spiral,” Nelson said.
Roberts was at the end of her rope, Nelson argued. She wanted to end the relationship, wanted Long out of the house. In late-night texts in the days before her killing, she vented to friends, Nelson told jurors, reading from text messages recovered by investigators.
“I can’t live like this. I’m too old for this,” Roberts texted in a message dated Jan. 2, 2018, Nelson said. In another message, dated Jan. 3, the day before she was killed, Roberts told a friend she felt betrayed: “I am beyond livid. I feel beyond used. He described me as a ‘purse,’ now I’m a nurse, too....I’m verbally abusive at this point. I hate this whole scene.”
Long testified Monday that Roberts gave him an ultimatum the next morning, telling him at knifepoint to get out. He alleged on the stand that Roberts lunged at him with the knife, triggering a violent confrontation that ended with him striking her with a utility hammer.
On the stand, Long recalled with exasperation how the tools he employed to dismember his wife failed the job.
“Unbelievable,” Long testified.
To investigators on Jan. 8, 2018, Long painted a different picture. Their marriage was “phenomenal,” he told detectives. Roberts was a “real down-to-earth girl,” he said. “I’ve never seen a bum smile on her.”
“But in August of 2019, he says, ‘Self-defense?’ Baloney,” Park told jurors. “If it’s self-defense, you call 911,” Park later argued.
“He casually walks into Home Depot and purchases a reciprocating saw – a SawsAll. ‘Unbelievable,’ he says, that it doesn’t work,” Park told jurors. “When he says, ‘Unbelievable,’ he’s not talking about chopping his wife 11 times or cutting off her legs; he’s talking about how the SawsAll doesn’t cut through human skin.”
Roberts was in her bed, blankets pulled up to her shoulders, a laptop computer atop the bedspread. Jurors viewed the photograph prosecutors say Long took of the bedroom scene in the minutes before he killed his wife. Long struck Roberts 11 times, nearly all on the back of the head, Park said.
An evidence photo of Roberts’ wounds was projected on the screen side by side with a police photo of an arrested Long. Stripped bare, Long’s body was free of cuts or bruises. The backs of Roberts’ hands bore deep cuts.
Defensive wounds, Park argued.
“She’s covering her head, covering it up as he’s chopping,” Park told jurors. “She’s not here to testify, but her body is sure telling you what happened.”