Moreland convicted of murdering Cara Roberts

bbashioum@demo-mo.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Former Grandview police officer Jeffrey Moreland, 54, will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole after members of a jury convicted him guilty in the November 2008 slaying of a 30-year-old Harrisonville mother.

In the five years since Cara Jo Roberts was killed, family and friends have held onto a hope that someday her murderer would be brought to justice.

That someday, happened Thursday, Sept. 12, in Judge Michael Wagner’s Cass County courtroom when a jury reached a verdict to convict Moreland of murder in the first degree.

The decision was made after deliberating for more than an hour.

Moreland, who medically retired from law enforcement 2005 after a 20-plus career, was also found guilty of armed criminal action, in which the jury asked for a 50-year sentence.

Sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 28.

A jury from Boone County consisting of five females and seven males heard the case, along with two male alternates, were presented with 30 testimonies from the prosecutors.

Moreland, who was represented by Public Defender Jeff Martin had none. Nor did he elect to take the stand.

Roberts husband, Jeff Roberts, was one of the early witnesses who shared a testimony.

He shared details of his relationship with Cara Roberts, and that of his son, Carter, who was two years old at the time of the murder.

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, at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5. Nobody had heard from Cara Roberts since about 2:30 p.m. that day.

Cara Roberts had told her husband that she was working on a big boy bed for their son.

Moreland came into the home at some point that afternoon and killed the victim.

Initially, Roberts thought his wife had fallen and hit her head, but evidence would later conclude that the death was caused by a gunshot wound in the back of her head.

“I saw her in a bathtub filled with bloody water,” Roberts said.

He immediately called 911.

As detailed in court, 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, suggesting Moreland had bound his victim before she got into the bathtub.

DNA specialist Andrew Atkinson, with the Kansas City Police Department, said the interior loops of the zip ties contained DNA consistent with Cara Roberts.

Traces of Morelands identity were also discovered on the items.

“We know that she didnt go into that bathroom voluntarily,” Assistant Cass County Prosecutor Jamie Hunt told the court.

Investigators also found a partial roll of duct tape at the foot of Roberts bed containing fingerprints placed Moreland at the scene.

According to Cass County Assistant Prosecutor Monica Penrose, Moreland had sexual intercourse with Roberts. Medical examiners found fresh semen inside of Roberts body.

“He left behind his DNA on those items, the tape, and in her body,” she said.

Roberts wounds indicated that she was shot in the back of her head.

The bullet went through her brain and through facial bones, and out through her left cheek. Fragments of the bullet also left an injury to her left leg, slightly above her knee, according to the Jackson County Medical Examiners Office.

DNA and fingerprint evidence placed Moreland in the Roberts home on Nov. 5, 2008, but the defense argued that there was no proof Moreland had shot the victim.

Investigators found a casing and fragments of a 9 mm bullet were found underneath Roberts body in the bathtub, but the handgun Moreland is accused of using to murder his victim has never been found.

They also argued that there was no witness to place the defendant at the crime scene.

A coworker of Moreland's testified, however, that the defendant owned two 9 mm handguns, one of which was uncovered at the suspect fathers home in Iowa, following Cara Roberts murder.

“Yes, there was sex, and yes, shes dead, but theres no evidence who killed her,” Martin argued.

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.

Despite investigating more than 180 leads following the murder, the investigation went cold for nearly three years.

Moreland then became a suspect in another case, the 2010 murder of 75-year-old Nina Whitney, Kansas City. He is also accused of raping another Harrisonville woman in June 2011, who was able to help investigators link the Roberts and Whitney cases to the perpetrator.

Moreland has been charged in Jackson County in the Whitney case, but a trial date has yet to be set.

As evidenced in testimonies this week, Moreland would try to throw off investigators by providing a DNA sample he had gotten from his future 20-year-old son-in-law to law enforcement when Kansas City Police Department officers requested DNA samples.

Kansas City police detective Leland Blank testified in court that Moreland had come up as a person of interest in another case, and on June 16, 2011, Blank and another detective visited with Moreland through a screen door at his Harrisonville residence.

Moreland 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 officers request, Moreland then told his daughters fiance, Thorrin Hacker, that he needed him to donate a DNA sample because a woman was bringing a paternity action against him.

Hacker, now 22, testified that on the following day, Moreland met him at a Phillips 66 station.

Hacker consented to meet him and during their conversation, Moreland asked him for a DNA sample.

After telling him no twice, Moreland finally persuaded him, Hacker said. Hacker followed Morelands request and produced a cheek swab using a household Q-Tip and blood sample using a diabetes-testing needle.

The swabs were put into an empty pill bottle.

Moreland then paid for Hackers gas, something that was not unusual, he said, and they parted ways.

Later in the day, Moreland contacted a Grandview police officer he used to work with and asked him to me at the QuikTrip near U.S. 49 and 150 Highway.

Larry Godfrey said he parked next to Morelands vehicle.

Prosecutors said Moreland was preparing to put on a show for Godfrey.

Upon Godfreys arrival, Moreland instructed his former colleague to Watch this, as he swabbed the wall of his mouth.

Godfrey testified Moreland then moved his hands below his line of sight. Moreland then took similar actions to obtain a blood sample.

Prosecutors believe in this moment, Moreland switched his DNA with Hackers.

Moreland gave the samples to Godfrey, along with Blanks business card, and said Kansas City Police would be in contact with him.

DNA testing would later reveal Morelands DNA was coated along the interior wall of the bottle that contained the two swabs from Hacker.

Following the interaction with Godfrey, Moreland fled to Iowa where he attempted suicide.

By this time, law enforcement had prepared enough evidence to bring him under arrest, which allowed deputies to obtain fingerprints and other DNA indicators.

As part of his testimony, Jeff Roberts also revealed on the witness stand that he unknowingly met his wifes accused killer in a Harrisonville bowling league the year following her death when Moreland joined a Monday night league.

While executing a search warrant of Moreland’s Jeep, law enforcement found a bowling bag and a form of some sort from the league that also had Jeff Roberts name on it.

The husband identified the suspect in the courtroom, who was wearing a black suit coat and sitting with his lawyers.

Following three testimonies on Thursday, state prosecutors rested their case to the court.

Martin confirmed that the defense would also rest their case and that Moreland did not want to take the stand.

After the trial was over, Jeff Roberts said he knew the day of Morelands conviction would eventually come, and said he hopes to keep his wifes memory alive for their now 7-year-old son.

Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley also made a statement following the reading of the verdict.

“This case has weighed on the entire community,” she said. “The victim's family and friends have dealt with incomprehensible loss and tragedy. Through this, they have exhibited unbelievable courage in their search for justice.”

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