After nearly five years of waiting, justice in the murder of Cara Roberts has finally come to exist.
Both tears and fear have tormented many upon hearing the story of 30-year-old Cara Roberts’ murder.
Her death on Nov. 5, 2008 not only stunned, but also rocked a sense of security within Harrisonville, a community of roughly 10,000 people, and where she and her husband, Jeff, had grown up in, and later chose to start their family.
Justice wouldn't be unveiled until nearly five years since her murder, within the walls of a Division 2 courtroom of the Cass County Justice Center on Sept. 12 after 30 witnesses proved Jeffrey Moreland, 54, guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
The punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder, and another 50 years in prison for the second charge.
The sense of safety within the community ripped from underneath the doormats of people throughout the town when the ex-cop living a mile away would randomly select to sexually assault and murder Cara Roberts.
It would take three years before police would have a solid suspect to look for.
“People were scared to death,” Roberts said. “Nobody expected this to happen here.”
Cara Roberts had recently been laid off from work, but was keeping her 2-year-old son Carter at daycare as she actively looked for a new job.
“She was always friendly,” said Jeff Roberts, in describing his wife. “She didn’t know a stranger. She was always happy and always had a big smile.”
On that November Wednesday afternoon, Cara Roberts had been working on putting together a firetruck-shaped “big boy bed” she had bought off of Craigslist for Carter.
“She was scrubbing it off outside with soap and water before she put it together and that’s when I assume when he probably would have saw her,” Roberts said. “She was interrupted.”
Friends and family members later suggested Cara Roberts may have been slightly frustrated in putting together the bed because it wasn’t going together very well, but she her usual “happy-go-lucky” personality was the same as any other day.
“Carter was obviously the most important thing in her life,” Roberts said. “She loved being a mother.”
During the trial that took place Sept. 9-12, Jeff Roberts told the jury that after coming home from work on that day to check on his wife because nobody had picked up Carter from daycare and she hadn’t come to the door when her father had stopped by about an hour earlier, he found his Cara Roberts curled up in a fetal position in a bathtub inside their Harrisonville home, 808 N. Patton, with a gunshot wound in the back of her head.
There were no signs of forced entry, but that didn’t surprise Jeff Roberts.
“The door could have been open. She had been carrying parts and pieces of that bed into the house,” he said. “On a normal basis, we locked our door, but if we were working outside, we would leave it opened. We knew half the people living on that street.”
Despite detectives looking into more than 180 leads following the murder, the investigation went cold for nearly three years. Little did anyone know the suspected killer was still living among them.
Moreland taunted with the victim’s family in the years before he was identified as a person of interested in the case.
Within a year of the murder, Moreland joined the same Westchester Lanes bowling league Jeff Roberts had played on for more than 20 years. While they weren’t on the same team, Moreland made conversation with Roberts and Carter at the bowling alley during their Monday evening games.
“He talked to my son, he talked to me, but we didn’t know any differently. We had no reason to think anything of it. Looking back, it bothers me that he did that,” Roberts said, “He knew I was there.”
Moreland is believed to have joined the league in October 2009 and played alongside Jeff Roberts throughout the following year. Jeff Roberts can’t remember what he talked about with Moreland, but says it bothered him the most that he talked to his son.
“Why did you have to get so close to involve him,” he asks.
Investigators say Moreland may have been doing it to try to get information on the case.
“They didn’t think Cara was his first victim, and they thought there may be more afterward,” Jeff Roberts said.
In June 2011, Moreland was identified as a suspect in a case detectives were working to another murder in Kansas City
Detectives showed Jeff Roberts his photo, which was a man he recognized from the bowling league.
“I remembered driving home that night thinking that this was not possible,” Roberts recalled. “I thought it was another dead end.”
The next morning at around 8 a.m., there was a phone call that indicated the DNA obtained from both the Harrisonville and Kansas City murder investigations were a match.
“I was just floored,” he said.
The DNA left in Cara Roberts’ body, and on a several pieces of evidence Moreland left in her home, was enough to finally prove him guilty.
On the day after a Boone County jury reached a guilty verdict against Moreland in Cara Roberts’ murder case, Jeff Roberts said woke up feeling the better than he has in years.
“I don’t know if there is closure now, but the trial is all we had left, and we got the absolute best result we could get,” Roberts said. “On Friday, I just felt like a different person. This (verdict) was the best we could wish for.”
In the final segment of trial, photos of Cara Roberts were projected onto a large screen in the courtroom.
They showed Cara Roberts on graduation night, at her wedding, at her sister Jessie’s wedding and a few with her son since his birth, exactly two years and two months from when he was born.
The jury’s verdict doesn’t bring Cara Roberts back, but gives the family satisfaction that justice has been served as they hold onto their memories.
“It doesn’t change anything, but it’s nice to hear ‘guilty,’” Roberts said.
Jeff Roberts’ biggest challenge ahead of him now is keeping his wife’s memory alive for their son, who is now 7.
“I just make sure he remembers his mom through pictures,” Roberts said.
He also said he takes his son to visit the grave at the cemetery, or they will talk about memories of things they had as a family.
“I’m afraid that he was so young that he might forget her if we don’t constantly talk about her through pictures and stories, things may slip away,” Roberts said.
Her father, Roger Keefer, shared how 1,500 people came through the line at their visitation for Cara Roberts.
“There’s a hole ripped in your heart,” he said. “Every time the phone rings, I think it’s going to be her.”
In the final minutes of the trial, Cara Roberts’ mom sat teary-eyed on the witness stand, remembering her daughter.
“Every time Carter comes to my house, we go through the pictures and find one of his mom for him to take home,” Theresa Matthews said. “That’s all we have. Just pictures.”
The fifth Annual Cara Roberts Memorial Golf Tournament, which raises money for a scholarship in Cara Roberts’ name for a Harrisonville High School student planning to study at the University of Central Missouri, is Sunday, Sept. 22.
The scholarship is awarded each spring to a student regardless of gender or GPA.
The 3-person scramble will take place at the Pleasant Hill Golf Course.