Ryan Douglas Roberts’ attorney alleges a man who was questioned by detectives in the days after young Jessica Funk-Haslam’s violent death in a baseball dugout was involved in the teenager’s killing in a motion filed this week.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gerrit Wood has begun to hear motions this week in Roberts’ thrice-delayed murder trial. Roberts, 25, remains held in Sacramento County jail and faces life in prison if convicted of Jessica’s killing.
The 23-page motion, obtained Tuesday by The Sacramento Bee, seeks to admit “evidence of third-party culpability” in 13-year-old Jessica’s death.
In it, defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis points to a man described in the documents as a 35-year-old transient and methamphetamine addict with a lengthy criminal history and “an obsession with knives.” The motion alleges the man knew Jessica, occasionally stayed with the family of one of Jessica’s friends and at a nearby motel and was arrested on an outstanding warrant and questioned by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Major Crimes investigators March 9, 2012 – three days after Jessica’s body was found at Rosemont Community Park.
Mouzis argues in her motion that the man lied to investigators about knowing Jessica, was unable to account for his whereabouts during the time the killing was believed to have been committed; and 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.
Rosemont neighbors and investigators alike were shaken when the body of the Albert Einstein Middle School eighth-grader was found at the park March 6, 2012, by a woman collecting recycling. She had been beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated.
Jessica left her home early the evening of March 5, 2012, following an argument with her mother and was reported missing the following morning.
According to the defense motion, detectives initially focused on the teenage friend who witnesses said was with Jessica the night she was killed and was said to be affiliated with local Juggalos, the face-painted fan base of Detroit-based rap group Insane Clown Posse and implicated by witnesses in Jessica’s death.
Juggalos are classified a “hybrid” criminal gang by the FBI, a designation challenged last year in a federal lawsuit filed by Insane Clown Posse and the American Civil Liberties Union in their home state of Michigan.
But the friend in a series of interviews with detectives repeatedly denied having seen Jessica the night of her death, telling them instead of the man who is the subject of the defense motion. Detectives ruled out the friend as a suspect and turned their focus to the transient before ultimately arresting Roberts.
Roberts was arrested in August 2013 on suspicion of murder in Jessica’s death after hundreds of tips, a lengthy and massive manhunt by swarms of local and federal authorities and after DNA evidence from discarded cigarette butts found in and around the dugout, investigators said, linked Roberts to the crime.
The DNA tests excluded the transient, according to the prosecutor’s evidence.