Nine cigarette butts and a couple of apparent lies to the cops led a judge Thursday to order a murder trial for Ryan Roberts in the killing of Jessica Funk-Haslam in Rosemont two years ago.
DNA on one of the smoked-down Camel 99s in and around the dugout of a youth baseball diamond at Rosemont Community Park came back most definitively as a match to the 13-year-old girl who was asphyxiated, beaten and stabbed in the neck. Two others came back with strong likelihood as a match to the 24-year-old defendant who worked in restaurants from midtown to Rancho Cordova. Six of the cigarettes contained genetic contributions from both of them.
“I think the evidence clearly suggests they were in the dugout together, smoking those cigarettes,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie M. Earl said from the bench in issuing her holding order on Roberts.
According to the prosecution’s court papers, Jessica Funk-Haslam’s father smokes Camel 99s. Still, the judge said, the DNA on the cigarette butts would have been “merely suspicious” concerning Roberts’ case “if he hadn’t lied to the detectives.”
Asked by Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives about his whereabouts when the girl was last seen – in the park, on the night of March 5, 2012 – Roberts replied, “I was not in the park,” according to Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall’s summation at at the end of the two-day preliminary hearing. Asked if he’d ever seen Funk-Haslam, Roberts said, “Never.” He also told the investigators, “I’ve never been in the dugout.”
Two of Roberts’ best friends upended key portions of his alibi.
One of them, identified as a Rosemont area man named Jimelle Moore, said that he and Roberts were in the park and that they saw Jessica sitting on a swing and spoke to her as it was getting dark the last night she was alive. Her body was found in the dugout around 6:30 a.m. the next day.
“He sat down on the swing and asked, ‘Are you OK,’ you know what I mean?” Moore told detectives after Roberts’ arrest, according to a transcript of his statement that was admitted as an exhibit at the preliminary hearing. “He had to ask her, like, what are you doin’ up here, you know She replied, ‘I just had a problem with my mom. I don’t feel like going home,’ and he said , ‘She must live in the area. All right, cool.’ ”
As he and Roberts left the park, Moore told detectives the defendant told Jessica, “ ‘You be safe,’ and I told her the same thing, like, ‘All right, you take care, you be safe out here ’cuz it’s gonna get dark and there’s no adults around.”
A second friend, Salvador Esparza-Cardenas, testified at the hearing Thursday that Roberts and Moore dropped by his apartment the next day, to talk about the girl’s killing that had been on the news. The two men recounted for Esparza-Cardenas their encounter with Jessica at the swings.
“Jimelle was saying, she looked like she’d been there before, being very comfortable, having no fear of being there after dark,” Esparza-Cardenas said. “They told told me they said, ‘Be careful, be safe,’ and they went home.”
Moore’s statement and Esparza-Cardenas’ testimony helped sway the judge into issuing her holding order. She set Roberts’ trial for Jan. 12. It will take place in Earl’s courtroom.
Esparza-Cardenas testified that Moore and Roberts told him that Funk-Haslam had taken on a different appearance than the school picture of her that was widely shown in the media. According to Esparza-Cardenas, they said she had cut her hair very short on one side and had let it grow long on the other.
“They both told me she had a Goth appearance,” Esparza-Cardenas said.
Esparza-Cardenas also testified that his friend Roberts liked to carry knives.
Defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis elicited testimony during the hearing from sheriff’s Detective Ken Clark that investigators had pursued other leads in the case, including one concerning Funk-Haslam’s interest in the Juggalos, the nationwide cultlike followers of a musical group called the Insane Clown Posse. Law enforcement authorities have likened the Juggalos to a street gang. Some members of the group deny a gang affiliation.
Mouzis suggested in her questioning of Clark that Funk-Haslam had arranged for an initiation ceremony to become a “Juggalette” two days before her death, but that she never showed up for it.
“I remember that came up,” Clark testified.
Clark testified in the hearing that detectives also looked into a man in his 40s whom Mouzis identified as a homeless methamphetamine addict who knew Funk-Haslam and a girlfriend of hers. Mouzis suggested in her questioning that the man was supposed to meet the two girls in the park the night Jessica was killed.
DNA tests performed on the cigarette butts excluded the man, according to the prosecutor’s evidence.
In issuing her holding order, Judge Earl said, “It’s clear to me whoever killed Jessica was with her in that dugout at the time of the murder. There is in my mind no doubt Mr. Roberts was in that dugout with Jessica in the hours and minutes before her death.”
The facts behind the defense presentation of other potential suspects “are interesting,” the judge said, “but I don’t think they mitigate the evidence against Mr. Roberts.”