After nearly five years of waiting, friends and family members of a slain Harrisonville mother are hoping justice will be rendered this week to the man they believe murdered 30-year-old Cara Jo Roberts.
Prosecutors are working to convict former Grandview police officer, Jeffrey Moreland, 54, who is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in Roberts’ death at her residence on Nov. 5, 2008.
Those who were close to Roberts took up the first three rows on one side of the courtroom during the first day of the trial on Sept. 10. Moreland’s daughter and parents sat on the first row on the other side.
Roberts’ husband, Jeff Roberts, told the jury that he found his wife curled up in a fetal position in a bathtub inside their Harrisonville home, 808 N. Patton, early in the evening on Nov. 5.
Investigators said Roberts had been sexually assaulted and shot in the back of the head by Moreland.
Roberts discovered his deceased wife after he came home early from work when the whereabouts of his wife were questioned by her father who was attempting to drop off two coolers of meat for the family.
When he could not reach his wife by telephone, Roberts called his toddler son’s babysitter, who reported Cara Jo Roberts had never came by to pick their child up from the daycare that afternoon.
Jeff Roberts came home to search for his wife, and within moments, found her dead in the bath tub.
Initially, Roberts thought she had fallen and hit her head, but evidence would later conclude that the death was caused by a gunshot in the back of her head.
Roberts was found nude, and there was no clothing or towels left in the bathroom to indicate she was preparing to take a bath. She was also wearing a watch and several rings.
“I saw her in a bathtub filled with bloody water,” Roberts said.
Roberts immediately called 911, and upon arrival, police ordered paramedics to the scene, who later confirmed her death.
There were no signs of forced entry at the home.
Crime scene investigators found two engaged zip ties in the home that had been cut. One was inside the bathroom that the victim was in, and the other was a few feet away in a hallway.
They also found a partial roll of duct tape at the foot of Roberts’ bed containing fingerprints that placed Moreland to the scene.
Matt Bohannon, a friend and neighbor of the Roberts, was one of the first people who had heard from Jeff Roberts following his discovery of the body.
Roberts reportedly told Bohannon by phone, “She’s dead, she’s dead.”
“He was crying and was hysterical,” Bohannon told the jury.
According to Penrose, Moreland’s sexual intercourse with Roberts was later confirmed through DNA analysis.
“He left behind his DNA on those items, the tape, and in her body,” Penrose said.
Despite investigating more than 180 leads, the case went cold for nearly three years.
During Penrose’s opening statement to jurors, she said the former police officer would later try to throw off investigators in June 2011 by providing a DNA sample he had gotten from his future 20-year-old son-in-law when Kansas City Police Department officers tried to obtain evidence in pertaining to another case.
Kansas City police detective Leland Blank testified that Moreland had come up as a person of interest in another case – but could not share in front of the jury that he was also a suspect in the 2010 murder of 75-year-old Nina Whitney.
Whitney had been strangled and stabbed more than 20 times. She was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in her home.
After seeing sketches of the suspect, Whitney’s daughter recognized the images to be Moreland, her former boyfriend.
On June 16, 2011, Blank said he and another detective visited with Moreland through a screen door at his Harrisonville residence. He spoke with the detectives, but said that he was too busy to give the sample.
“He said he had to take his cat to the vet,” Blank said.
Following the officer’s request, Moreland then allegedly told his future son-in-law that he needed him to donate a DNA sample because a woman was bringing a paternity action against him.
Moreland collected the samples and gave it to a former colleague at the Grandview Police Department while sitting in a gas station parking lot. Moreland told the cop to pass it along to the Kansas City investigators in the murder case, prosecutors said.
Moreland then fled to Iowa before he eventually was later extradited back to Cass County.
As part of his testimony, Roberts also revealed on the witness stand that he unknowingly met his wife’s accused killer in a Harrisonville bowling league the year following her death when Moreland joined a Monday night league.
The husband identified the suspect in the courtroom, who was wearing a black suit coat and white dress shirt, sitting with his lawyers.
Further evidence in connection with Robert’s death is expected to be presented in trial tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 11.