Crime - Sacto 911

Attorney alleges juror misconduct during client’s trial for murder of Jessica Funk-Haslam

Ryan Douglas Roberts closes his eyes after hearing his guilty verdict in the murder of Jessica Funk-Haslam, 13.
Ryan Douglas Roberts closes his eyes after hearing his guilty verdict in the murder of Jessica Funk-Haslam, 13.

The attorney for the man convicted in September of brutally slaying a 13-year-old girl has accused the jury’s forewoman and a second juror of misconduct, calling on a judge to unseal the pair’s jury records.

The attorney, Jennifer Mouzis, also asked to examine the forewoman’s social media accounts and order the two to testify, though, Mouzis said in her October motion, she is not immediately planning to seek a new trial for Ryan Douglas Roberts.

Roberts, 25, was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23 to 26 years to life in state prison for first-degree murder in the death of Jessica Funk-Haslam at Rosemont Community Park in March 2012.

But Roberts’ sentencing was postponed until Nov. 20 as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gerrit Wood considers Mouzis’ juror-misconduct motion filed.

This is not some fishing expedition – defense counsel has shown that Juror Number 4 and Juror Number 10 committed misconduct – the extent of that misconduct, however, is still at issue.

Defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis

Mouzis alleges the forewoman, identified as “Juror 4” in motions, defied a court order by posting to social media during trial and jurors’ deliberation. Mouzis asked Wood to order the juror to testify regarding the tweets and sign a waiver allowing the court to obtain her social media records.

Mouzis accuses “Juror 10” of perjuring himself at a court hearing during trial when he said he did not mention his prior jury service in Seattle during a conversation with Jessica’s mother, Tara Funk-Haslam, in the courthouse’s sixth-floor cafeteria. Funk-Haslam said the juror told her about serving on a jury, according to the motion. The juror testified that he never mentioned his jury service and quickly ended their brief chat.

Both the juror and Funk-Haslam were questioned by the judge about the incident at that hearing, and the judge found no evidence of juror misconduct.

The animus displayed by the defense to these two jurors in their briefing is palpable.

Eric Kindall, Sacramento County deputy district attorney

Mouzis later stated Juror 10 also did not divulge his prior service either in his questionnaire or during jury selection.

“This is not a game – this is Mr. Roberts’ life, and the defense should be granted the time necessary” to pursue its claim, Mouzis wrote.

Jessica Funk-Haslam’s body was found on the floor of a baseball diamond’s dugout at the park March 6, 2012, the morning after leaving her home following an argument with her mother. She had been stabbed and asphyxiated.

A murder weapon was never recovered and a motive never established. Roberts was arrested in 2014 in connection with Jessica’s killing after investigators determined DNA from discarded cigarette butts found at and near the scene tied Roberts to the girl and the murder scene.

DNA evidence figured prominently at the weeks-long trial in August and September and after six days of deliberation, jurors convicted Roberts of first-degree murder. Mouzis argued that another man, a transient who occasionally lived with the family of Jessica’s best friend and was questioned by law enforcement in the days after Jessica’s body was found, was responsible for the girl’s death.

In her recent motion, Mouzis pointed to a series of nine tweets by the forewoman during trial and to the juror’s listing in a jury questionnaire of friends and neighbors in law enforcement as evidence of bias.

In the tweets, Juror 4 weighs in on looters (“I’m not a big fan of people just shooting people, but I make an exception with looters. Shoot ’em all & let God sort ’em out.”); her jury service during a Republican presidential debate (“No debate for me. I’m in the third day of jury deliberations.”); and the jury’s eventual verdict (“Being done with jury duty is good. Putting bad guys away is better.”), as proof of her misconduct.

“It’s not surprising then that, after reviewing the juror’s numerous tweets, the defense has some concern about whether or not the juror may have been biased in favor of the prosecution from the outset of trial,” Mouzis’ motion read.

Mouzis’ motion was met with sharp opposition from the prosecuting Sacramento County deputy district attorney, Eric Kindall. In a response filed with the court, Kindall called the defense motion “gamesmanship” in asking Wood to deny the motion, saying Roberts’ defense failed to prove misconduct. Kindall further argued that to scour the forewoman’s social media for evidence of bias would amount to a “wholesale invasion” of the juror’s private Internet accounts and chill other prospective jurors who could have their online activity similarly examined by criminal defendants.

“Nothing – but nothing – in Juror 4’s tweets would justify the wholesale invasion of her private internet accounts of the sort the defendant proposes,” Kindall wrote.

Kindall also said the forewoman’s statements referring to Roberts as a “bad guy” did not signal bias.

“Up until the point that Juror 4 and her colleagues returned their verdict, Ryan Roberts was presumed innocent in the eyes of the law. Now he stands forth for what he is … He is by any definition, a ‘bad guy,’ ” Kindall wrote. “If Juror 4 views her work with satisfaction, she has earned the right.”

Kindall and Mouzis remain under a court order not to discuss the case. Exhibits Mouzis presented to bolster her case for juror misconduct remain under seal.

By violating a court order and commenting on social media, Juror 4 opened her social media to court scrutiny, said Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and frequent national commentator on legal affairs based in Lafayette.

“The juror gave up any rights to privacy,” he said, adding that an independent party hired by the court should review her social media for evidence of outside influence or gross misconduct.

Horowitz said the alleged conduct of Juror 10 seems potentially more troublesome, but is ultimately “likely harmless.”

According to the defense motion, Juror 10 admitted serving on a Seattle jury, but said he did not talk with Funk-Haslam about his service there and quickly ended the conversation when he realized the woman was the victim’s mother. However, Funk-Haslam, in separate testimony, contradicts the juror, recalling that the juror talked about his Seattle jury service.

Horowitz said misconduct would likely be hard to prove.

The contact, “may or may not have had an effect and of course the juror will deny any effect and deny any substance to the conversation,” he said.

Mouzis in the motion said Juror 10 showed a “demonstrable lack of honesty” at the hearing regarding his conversation with Funk-Haslam and accused him of bias, suggesting he “deliberately concealed” the conversation along with facts about his prior jury service and work history for home security companies in the Sacramento area in order to be seated on the jury.

Kindall argued the conversation between the juror and Funk-Haslam had already been litigated at the court hearing and that Roberts’ defense did not ask for a mistrial or to replace the juror, adding that the defense did not investigate Juror 10’s inconsistencies until after trial.

“The defendant has waived the issue and is bound by his choice,” Kindall wrote.

In her response, Mouzis said the matter was litigated before she “had all the information on this issue.” Mouzis said Kindall incorrectly identified the juror in an email regarding the conversation and that she learned that Juror 10 never mentioned his Seattle jury service in open court only after reviewing jury selection transcripts.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith