Jury finds Moreland guilty of murder

bbashioum@demo-mo.comSeptember 20, 2013 

A Boone County jury found ex-cop Jeffrey Moreland, 54, Harrisonville, guilty in the Nov. 5, 2008 slaying of a 30-year-old mother in his community.

Moreland sat with little emotion when the jury handed in their first-degree murder verdict for causing the death of Cara Jo Roberts within the walls of Judge Michael Wagner’s Cass County courtroom on Sept. 12 after a three-day trial.

Thirty witnesses took to the stand for the prosecution, which was led by Assistant Cass County Prosecutors Jamie Hunt and Monica Penrose.

Moreland, who was represented by Public Defender Jeff Martin, had no defense. Nor did he elect to take the stand.

Following a formal sentencing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 28, the former Grandview police officer is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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

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

After prosecutors and the defense rested their cases early in the afternoon Sept. 12, the jury reached a verdict after deliberating for about an hour and a half.

Roberts’ husband, Jeff Roberts, was one of the early witnesses who shared testimony in the trial.

He shared details of his relationship with Cara Roberts, and that of his son, Carter, who was 2 years old at the time of the murder.

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, at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5. Nobody had heard from her for hours before he found her.

Cara Roberts was working on putting together a “big boy bed” she and her husband had bought for Carter.

Friends and family members suggested Cara Roberts may have been slightly frustrated in putting together the bed that brisk, November day because it wasn’t going together very well, but she her usual “happy-go-lucky” personality was the same as any other day.

Moreland then came into the Roberts’ home at some point that afternoon and killed the lone occupant. According to prosecutors, Moreland raped Cara Roberts during his break-in. Evidence also suggests Cara Roberts was bound with zip ties by Moreland.

At the scene, 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.

“We know that she didn’t go into that bathroom voluntarily,” Hunt said.

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

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

After the rape, investigators believed Moreland then took his victim to the bathroom, ordered her into the bathtub and then shot her 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 from an “unknown man” and fingerprint evidence would later place Moreland in the Roberts’ home on Nov. 5, 2008, but the defense argued that there was no proof Moreland had shot the victim.

“Yes, there was sex, and yes, she’s dead, but there’s no evidence of who killed her,” Martin argued.

Investigators found a casing and fragments of a 9-millimeter bullet underneath Roberts body in the bathtub, but the handgun used to murder the victim has never been found.

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

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 , the investigation went cold in the year following Cara Roberts’ death.

But to the family’s surprise, by the end of May 2011, Moreland became a suspect in the case after the daughter of another homicide victim recognized a sketch of Moreland as a man she once dated.

In October 2010, Moreland allegedly strangled and stabbed 75-year-old Nina Whitney 22 times in her south Kansas City home.

The DNA from both crime scenes matched.

On June 16, 2011, Kansas City Police Detective Leland Blank and another detective visited with Moreland through a screen door at his Harrisonville residence to request a DNA sample.

Moreland spoke with the detectives, but said that he was too busy to help.

“He said he had to take his cat to the vet,” Blank said.

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

Hacker, 22, testified in court that he met up with Moreland at a Phillips 66 gas station, and against his will, produced a cheek swab using a household Q-Tip and a blood sample using a diabetes-testing needle for the defendant.

Later in the day, Moreland then knowingly gave Hacker’s DNA samples, claiming that they were his own, to a Grandview police officer to hand off to the Kansas City Police Department.

A DNA analyst would later confirm in court that the DNA sample Moreland submitted to the Grandview police matched Hacker’s DNA.

Within a matter of days, Moreland then allegedly raped another Harrisonville woman, then fled to Iowa where he attempted suicide. Following a brief hospitalization in Iowa, Moreland was arrested and extradited to Cass County, where he was charged.

In the prosecution’s closing arguments on Sept. 12, Hunt insisted Moreland had premeditated his victim’s death.

“When Jeffrey Moreland arrived at Cara Roberts’ house, he knew that she was never coming out,” he said.

Moreland is expected to remain in the Cass County Jail until his formal sentencing next month, however, any other agency with charges, including Jackson County, where he faces murder charges in Whitney’s death, could writ him out.

Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley 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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