Sacramento County Sheriff’s Detective, Paul Belli. At 6′ tall and 215 pounds, he claimed he entered the locked dugout the morning Jessica Funk-Haslam’s body was discovered. CSI Tamara Mickelson, at 5’6″ and 125 pounds testified that with her gear on, she could not. When pressed at trial, she was very doubtful she could, even without her gear on.
The Locked Dugout
When homicide detectives arrived at the scene early March 6th, 2012, they found 13-year-old Jessica Funk-Haslam inside a locked baseball dugout at Rosemont Community Park, in an unincorporated area of east Sacramento, California. At just 4′ 10″ and 87 lbs., she was small for her size. She was dressed in jeans and a zebra-striped hoodie that was zipped up to her neck, lying face up with her head against the fencing of the dugout. The back of her skull was fractured, there was evidence she had been beaten with scrapes and abrasions to the right-side of her jaw and chin, she had been stabbed in the right-side of her neck, and there was evidence of petechial hemorrhaging, a sign that she had been asphyxiated–most likely by chest compression, someone sitting on her chest.
Coroner Gregory Reiber had testified that the murder occurred in the dugout where the body was found. During the murder trial of Jessica Funk-, the defense began to lay the groundwork that the defendant, Ryan Douglas Roberts at 5’10” and 195 lbs. could not have possibly squeezed through the small opening of the locked dugout.
At trial, CSI Tamara Mickelson at 5’6″ and 125 lbs. had testified that she could not enter the locked dugout with her gear on. When asked what about with her gear off, she replied, “I don’t know. If I took my gear off, maybe. I can’t say. I don’t know.” It is clear, that she was very unsure that she could have entered to locked dugout. Remember, at 5’6″ and 125 pounds, Tamara Mickelson is a very slender woman.
Baseball coach Vaughn Booker, who was the one who locked the dugout gate also testified that he could not enter the locked dugout. He testified that “maybe” his 85-pound son could have gotten in, but he certainly could not.
So for people at 85 to 125 pounds, the answer was “maybe” they could squeeze into the locked dugout.
“Oh no. Not while it was locked, no.”
CSI Tamara Mickelson was at the crime scene that day. She also met that morning with Belli, Clark, and Turnbull for the walk-through shortly after they arrived. When asked if any of them had entered the locked dugout, she emphatically and unequivocally stated, “No. Not while it was locked, no.”
Ms. Mickelson did not equivocate. She said they never entered the locked dugout. However, Prosector Eric Kindall tried to mitigate the damage done by her statement with his two follow-up questions. Nevertheless, she testified that Belli, Clark and Turnbull did not ever enter the locked dugout. She was emphatic they did not. I believe it’s because she knew they COULD NOT. Sadly, that is the question she was never asked.
Testi-Lying to the Impossible
Two of the three homicide detectives at the crime scene testified that they entered the locked dugout. One was Paul Belli at 6′ and 215 lbs. the other was Tony Turnbull at 5’10 and 230 lbs. Both big men.
It’s curious then, that their partner, Kenneth Clark wrote in his original crime scene report that the killer was average or smaller size. See report here. He later testified that he saw one of his colleagues enter the locked dugout. Belli and Turnbull are his colleagues and neither of them is “average or smaller” size.
So why did Clark write this in his report? At the time of the crime, there was no suspect. It was only later, after Ryan Roberts was arrested, that they needed to reverse-engineer their story to make it fit.
The Damning Email
Just two days before he was to testify at trial, Paul Belli suddenly “remembered” that he entered the locked dugout at the crime scene and contacted DA Prosecutor Eric Kindall.
According to his email, Belli stated he was actually approached by Kenneth Clark, who reminded Belli how he had “assisted” Clark in the crime scene investigation. Here is a screenshot of the email. Note: Prosecutor Eric Kindall’s email has been removed to protect his privacy.
So, Belli claims that Clark approached him just that morning, August 24th, and that Clark reminded Belli how he had assisted Clark, who was in charge of the crime scene, in the scene survey. Belli states that he had Clark’s “implicit permission” to enter the locked dugout.
So how is it that just one day later, on August 25th, that Detective Kenneth Clark testifies that he saw “someone” but does not know who entered the dugout? He has to be prompted to Prosecutor Kindall to even remember that it was a “colleague.” Funny how Clark does not remember that (according to Belli) just one day before, on August 24th, that he had spoken with Belli and prompted him to remember how Belli had assisted him in the dugout.
But Prosecutor Kindall knows all of this, because he received the email from Belli less than 24 hours prior. So Kindall had to prompt Clark, fishing for the answer he needed to support Belli’s upcoming testimony, where he testified that he entered the locked dugout.
You’ll notice that Belli did not cc Clark on his email to Kindall, which is either incredibly sloppy or cunningly premeditated. Typical email protocol is to cc people who are mentioned in an email. Belli fails to do this and consequently, Clark has no idea what Belli has told Kindall–and it’s all very telling, because this is exactly what Clark’s testimony reflects.
Prosecutor Kindall asks Detective Clark if he saw anybody go into the locked dugout. Clark’s answer is, “Yes. I believe there were people that went in there.” Huh? Is it, “Yes” or is, “I believe there were…”? When telling a whopper of a lie, it is a good idea to qualify it with another statement, one that is nebulous and cloudy, imprecise and not open to clear interpretation. That way, if you are ever questioned on it, you have created some lee-way, a “fudge factor” to protect you.
Kindall is forced to prompt Detective Clark to see if it was one of his colleagues. Clark musters a definitive statement this time, “Yes.” It was a colleague after all! But wait, does he “remember” who it was? Dang! We were so close! No, he does not remember who it was.
But Wait! What About the Email?
That’s right, we remember this! His colleague, Paul Belli, has already told Kindall that Detective Clark is the one who approached him and asked Belli if he remembered.
How is it, then, that on the witness stand, that Kenneth Clark has no memory just one day later of Belli’s being in the locked dugout when, according to Belli’s email, Clark reminded him of this very thing.
How can their stories be so different? They’re different because someone is lying.
The Faking of a Murderer
So there you have it. That’s how you convict an innocent man. You take his cigarette butts that he’s left in the park he frequents. You add a troubled 13-year-old girl who smokes and is hanging out waiting for her bad-news friend. She picks up his cigarette butts and re-lights them to smoke and you get both of their DNA on the butts. You have a dugout that is locked tight and so small that a skinny, 125-pound CSI agent who is not even sure she could squeeze in. She testifies under oath that Belli, Clark and Turnbull did NOT enter the locked dugout. But not to fear, you have two detectives weighing 215 and 230 pounds respectively who testify that they DID enter the very narrow, tightly-locked dugout.
Voila! You now have the faking of a murderer.