The DNA evidence either links Ryan Douglas Roberts to the killing of 13-year-old Jessica Funk-Haslam or it clears him of the girl’s murder in March 2012. Roberts was either with Jessica in a baseball dugout in the moments before her violent death or prosecutors have the wrong man, accused of a heinous crime he did not commit.
For most of Monday, Sacramento Superior Court jurors pondered closing arguments in the case of the young man accused of murdering a girl who left her home early one evening for nearby Rosemont Community Park after a row with her mother. Much of the day focused on DNA evidence lifted from discarded cigarette butts and the girl’s belt that prosecutors say proves Roberts’ guilt and that his defense attorneys say prove nothing.
Jessica Funk-Haslam was 13 when her body was found by a passerby March 6, 2012, at the park in the shadow of the middle school she attended.
She had been beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated. A year and a half later, in August 2013, authorities arrested Ryan Douglas Roberts after a massive manhunt.
On Monday afternoon, jurors began to deliberate his fate. Roberts, 25, faces life in prison if convicted.
“Look to the evidence, I beg you,” Roberts’ attorney Jennifer Mouzis said. Defense attorneys said DNA evidence gathered at the crime scene from the cigarettes, articles of Jessica’s clothing, the items she carried that night and a condom found inside the dugout were either inconclusive or excluded Roberts outright. They said investigators never could find a murder weapon.
“Mr. Roberts is an innocent man, not because of a preponderance of doubt,” Mouzis said. “He is innocent because he is innocent.”
Mouzis again referred to the man she argued is responsible for Jessica’s death, a 35-year-old transient who occasionally stayed with the family of one of Jessica’s friends and at a nearby motel and who was questioned by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Major Crimes investigators in the days after Jessica’s body was found. Mouzis had argued that the man lied to investigators about knowing Jessica and could not account for his whereabouts during the time the killing was believed to have been committed.
“He’s a guy with motive and opportunity and he’s innocent?” Mouzis said.
But deputy district attorney Eric Kindall shrugged off the absence of a weapon, saying “only an idiot in this DNA age would keep a knife” linked to a homicide, and later said Roberts was evasive with his friends and later lied to investigators about seeing Jessica. He dismissed Mouzis’ theory of a second suspect as a “bizarre, grotesque conspiracy.”
Ultimately, Kindall argued, the cigarette butts linked Roberts to the crime.
“The evidence is that the two of them are together in the dugout,” Kindall said. Roberts’ friend Jimell Moore testified in the early days of trial that he and Roberts saw Jessica at the park around dusk before leaving with parting words for the girl to head home. Kindall on Monday said Roberts did leave, but later returned to the park.
“He saw Jessica that night, saw that she was vulnerable and he attacked and killed her,” Kindall said. “All of these strands of evidence point in the same direction: to Ryan Roberts.”