Nearly three years passed from the time Cara Jo Roberts was found shot to death in a full bathtub until detectives finally knocked on the door of Jeffrey Dean Moreland.
On Tuesday’s opening day of Moreland’s murder trial in Harrisonville, Kansas City police detective Leland Blank testified that Moreland’s name had come up as a person of interest in another case.
Moreland, 54, a former Grandview police officer, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Roberts, 30, on Nov. 5, 2008, in her Harrisonville home. She had been sexually assaulted and shot in the back of the head while her toddler son was at the baby sitter.
What Blank couldn’t say in front of the jury was that the other case was the 2010 murder of 75-year-old Nina Whitney, who was found strangled and stabbed in her south Kansas City home and that Whitney’s daughter had tipped investigators to Moreland, whom she once dated.
Investigators had already linked the two murders but had no suspect.
So on June 16, 2011, Blank and another detective drove to Harrisonville to ask Moreland for a DNA sample. Moreland answered the door but told the two detectives that he was too busy to give the sample.
“He said he had to take his cat to the vet,” Blank testified.
The next day, Blank received a voice mail message from Moreland, who told him that he had done the oral swab and given the sample to a former colleague on the Grandview Police Department and hoped that would be last time the two would ever talk, the detective told the court.
In her opening statement Monday, Cass County assistant prosecutor Monica Penrose alleged that Moreland, in an attempt to throw off investigators, used that extra time to get his future son-in-law to provide the DNA swab. Moreland told him he needed it because a woman was threatening Moreland with a paternity action, Penrose said.
The son-in-law is expected to testify today.
Moreland’s public defender, Jeff Martin, did not make an opening statement.
In laying out the prosecution’s case Tuesday, Penrose told the court that Roberts had been home that day putting a “big boy” bed together for her toddler son.
“It was to be a surprise for Carter when he got home,” Penrose said.
“But she was interrupted by a man with a 9 millimeter handgun, zip ties and a roll of duct tape.”
After sexually assaulting Roberts, the intruder made her get into the bathtub.
“Then he put that gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger,” Penrose said.
But when the man left, Penrose said, he forgot the duct tape. It contained DNA and a fingerprint that matches Moreland, the prosecutor said.
Roberts’ father testified that he had gone to his daughter’s house that afternoon to deliver two freezer chests of frozen beef but couldn’t get a response at the door. So he called her husband at work.
Jeff Roberts told the court that at 5:30 p.m., he called the baby sitter, who told him Carter was still there and she had not seen Cara. Roberts said he went home and found the front door ajar. He went through the house.
“I saw her in the bathtub filled with bloody water,” Roberts testified.
Roberts also told the court that after his wife’s murder, Jeffrey Moreland joined his Monday night bowling league.
Moreland is also charged in Jackson County with first-degree murder in the death of Whitney. Last week, a judge was assigned in the case, but no trial date has been set.