The man convicted in the 2012 killing of a 13-year-old girl could get a new trial after a judge Friday set a March date for a hearing on the matter.
Jurors in September convicted Ryan Douglas Roberts, 25, of killing Jessica Funk-Haslam, whose body was found by a passerby March 6, 2012, in a baseball dugout at Rosemont Community Park.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gerrit Wood canceled Roberts’ Jan. 29 sentencing and instead agreed to hear the new trial motion March 4 against the objections of prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall.
If the motion is granted, Roberts and his attorney could be allowed to try to convince another jury that he is not guilty in Jessica’s killing. Autopsy reports showed that the girl had been beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated.
If no motion is filed or if Wood denies the motion, Roberts’ sentencing will be March 18, when he would face 26 years to life in state prison on a charge of first-degree murder in the teen’s death.
Kindall at the Friday hearing argued the evidence presented at trial last summer had not changed since Roberts’ conviction. He also cited the state’s Victims Bill of Rights in arguing that Jessica’s family had waited too long for resolution in the case, stressing that the scheduled March hearing date is two days shy of the fourth anniversary of the middle schooler’s death.
Wood said Roberts’ right to due process must also be considered in granting the March date for Roberts’ defense attorney, Jennifer Mouzis, to present her request for a new trial.
Daniel Horowitz, a defense attorney and legal commentator based in Lafayette, said attempts to seek a new trial are rarely granted but said the motions lay groundwork for potential appeals.
“I can’t think of one being granted, but it lays out all of the evidence for the Court of Appeals to look at,” Horowitz said. “If they raise it now, early on, they can raise it as a point of appeal. That’s what’s going on here, and it’s a good move by them.”
Kindall, in a case based largely on DNA evidence, had argued at trial that DNA from discarded cigarette butts found at and near the dugout tied Roberts to the girl and the murder scene.
Mouzis said prosecutors had the wrong person. She argued that a transient who occasionally lived with the family of Jessica’s best friend and was interviewed by law enforcement in the days after Jessica’s body was found was responsible for the teen’s death.
A murder weapon was never recovered and a motive never established, but after six days of deliberation, jurors in September convicted Roberts of first-degree murder. Roberts, arrested in August 2013 in the girl’s slaying, remains held at Sacramento County Main Jail.
Mouzis has continued to fight sentencing in the case, filing motions alleging juror misconduct; arguing to introduce evidence of a potential suspect; and in a motion filed this week, contending that DNA taken from Roberts after a prior arrest in which he was never charged was unconstitutionally used by authorities against him in Jessica’s murder case.