Ryan Douglas Roberts will serve 26 years to life in state prison for the murder of 13-year-old Jessica Funk-Haslam, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled Friday as Roberts’ family continued to assert his innocence, levying new claims of perjury against Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives who initially investigated the girl’s death.
Jurors convicted Roberts in September of the killing nearly four years after Jessica’s body was found March 6, 2012 inside a baseball diamond’s dugout at Rosemont Community Park in the shadow of her middle school. She had been beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated, the shocking death prompting a massive manhunt that ended with Douglas’ arrest in August 2013.
Investigators never recovered a weapon and prosecutors had no motive, but DNA gleaned from discarded cigarette butts found at the scene and the girl’s belt were key building blocks in the case against Roberts.
On Friday, Tara Haslam, Jessica’s mother, lamented the life her daughter would never have and pleaded for Roberts to be committed to prison for the remainder of his days.
“I have asked myself so many times, how could a grown man commit such a horrible crime to a young girl. … Jessica lost her freedom to grow, have a boyfriend, get married or have children of her own,” Haslam said. “Ryan has committed a mean, hateful and horrible crime. Jessica was my only child. Ryan has stolen her from me. I am begging you, don’t allow this man to go free to hurt other girls and their families. Children, family and freedom are very special and should not be given to a murderer.”
But throughout the trial and in the months of motions filed following the jury’s verdict, Roberts’ defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis maintained that prosecutors had the wrong man. Mouzis alleged a young friend of Jessica’s who was questioned by detectives in the days after Jessica’s death and who later testified under a grant of immunity was among those responsible for the teen’s death.
Earlier this month, Roberts’ bid for a new trial based on new evidence –discovered by defense investigators that Mouzis said linked Jessica’s friend, the friend’s mother and the mother’s boyfriend to the killing – was denied by Superior Court Judge Gerrit Wood. Roberts is planning to appeal.
Following Friday’s sentencing, Roberts’ family doubled down on the assertion. Roberts’ mother, Tammy Roberts, announced they had filed a complaint with the Sacramento County Inspector General’s Office alleging sheriff’s investigators Tony Turnbull, Paul Belli and Kenneth Clark lied when they testified they entered the locked dugout to investigate Jessica’s death to support the DNA evidence presented against Ryan Roberts at trial. The five-page complaint obtained by The Sacramento Bee also contains pages of exhibits depicting the crime scene and data Roberts’ family says bolster their case.
Turnbull, now a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, declined to comment on the family’s allegations.
At trial, prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall said Roberts and Jessica shared cigarettes in the dugout before Jessica was killed. But defense attorney Mouzis questioned whether Roberts could get into the dugout through a gap in its locked gate and argued that crime scene investigators who could not get into the dugout placed evidence markers on the dirt track while they waited for someone to open the gate.
Tammy Roberts said because Jessica’s body was found inside a locked dugout with a narrow gate opening, investigators initially believed Jessica’s killer was of small- to medium build before obtaining Roberts’ DNA. Ryan Roberts is about 5 feet 10 inches and 200 pounds, too large, the complaint to the inspector general asserted, to fit through the opening of the locked gate, and a problem for investigators.
“Once they had his DNA, they had a problem,” Tammy Roberts said. “Their solution? The prosecution chose to use the perjured testimony of the three detectives at the crime scene.”
Turnbull and Belli testified at trial that they entered the locked dugout, according to the Roberts’ complaint. Both men are roughly the same size as Roberts.
“Ryan did not kill Jessica. … Because all three detectives ‘testi-lied’ the jury has convicted an innocent man,” Tammy Roberts said.
Across the street from the Gordon Schaber Courthouse, Tara Haslam sat in a rear lobby of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. She clutched a copy of the statement she read in court and accepted quiet greetings from victims’ assistance staffers who sat with her as the case made its way through judgment and sentencing.
She also thought about what comes next. Had she lived, Jessica would have turned 18 on May 31.
“We did not get justice because she’s not here. But, we have finally ended one chapter. We’ve closed the legal chapter and I don’t know what the next chapter will be,” Tara Haslam said. “I’m hoping to start a new part of my life, but she will still always be a part of it. Life will never be normal again, but this is the new normal in my life.”