SANTA ANA – A fired Huntington Beach police officer stalked, terrorized and raped his estranged wife and girlfriend in a “cycle of violence,” in which he repeatedly lured them back into a relationship with vows to change his ways while several co-workers helped him keep the law at bay, a prosecutor told jurors today.
The defense attorney for James Roberts III, however, told jurors his client’s accusers are liars who eventually teamed up to sue him and the Huntington Beach Police Department.
Roberts and his wife married in September 2003, and four days later their son was born, Deputy District Attorney John Christl said in his opening statement.
In February 2006 the marriage began to unravel and he was kicked out of their house when the defendant’s wife saw multiple text messages and calls on his cell phone from other women, including a stripper, Christl said.
In February 2007, Roberts began dating the other alleged victim in the case, the prosecutor said.
“The defendant was a very jealous person, controlling and he abused his position as a police officer,” Carlson Meissner said, adding Roberts would use computers at work to do unauthorized research on ex-boyfriends of his lovers. Roberts would go back and forth between both women, drinking heavily as he “spiraled out of control until he snapped,” Christl said.
After beating and sexually assaulting them he would “lure the women back with his loving words,” Christl said.
A psychiatric expert will testify about how an abusive man pulls victims into the “cycle of violence,” from beatings to the “calm and loving phase where he pleads for forgiveness,” Christl said.
On March 1, 2007, Roberts allegedly grabbed his girlfriend’s cell phone away from her because he suspected she was talking to her “high school sweetheart,” and pushed her against a wall, Christl said. The girlfriend said she spent about $1,000 replacing phones that the defendant allegedly wrecked during their on- and off-again relationship, the prosecutor said.
On July 3, 2007, when his wife was out to dinner with her cousin the alleged victim began receiving messages from the defendant threatening to throw the out-of-town cousin’s belongings out on the street, Christl said. After the two returned home, Roberts allegedly shoved his wife, bruising her arm, Christl said.
On July 22, 2007, while his estranged wife was in Arizona visiting with a new boyfriend, Roberts used a propane tank to destroy several pieces of her furniture in her home, Christl alleged.
Roberts called his wife and allegedly said she was a “whore and a slut,” and threatened to beat her to death, Christl said.
That same night Roberts allegedly forced his girlfriend to have sex, Christl said.
The following day, a sobbing Roberts called his estranged wife saying he was sorry and he wants to “eat a bullet,” as he assured her his girlfriend was “out of the picture,” Christl said.
On her way home, the wife called Huntington Beach Sgt. Robert Warden reporting her husband was suicidal and that she was afraid for her own safety and wanted a protective order, Christl said.
Warden called Roberts and left a message saying, “So whatever happens it’s going to be between you and I … I need to just talk to you,” according to a tape of the call played for jurors.
Warden later told the wife, “It seems to me that everything is fine … And there’s no reason for us to be involved at this point,” according to a call played for jurors.
Another one of Roberts’ supervisors, Sgt. J.B. Hume, told the defendant, “I didn’t want you to be worried about the lieutenant in me… You’re 100 percent OK with me,” according to another call played for jurors. Hume later admitted that police “dropped the ball,” Christl said.
“She was unable to be helped by Sgt. Warden, J.B. Hume or anyone else,” Christl said.
On July 24, 2007, when the wife returned home to see the damage she called police to report the defendant had threatened her and was suicidal, Christl said. A dispatcher — Erin Berry-Dereszynski — turned around and alerted Roberts, the prosecutor said.
“She’s on 911 right now, crying hysterically, saying you’re refusing to leave the house,” the dispatcher said in another call played for jurors. Roberts told the dispatcher, “I’m not even at home, I’m at Jack in the Box.”
Berry-Dereszynski was living with Roberts and her fiance at the time, Christl said.
Later, she grew to believe the wife’s allegations and she asked her fiance to kick Roberts out, the prosecutor said.
On Halloween in 2007, Roberts kicked in the door of his wife’s home, ripped off her clothes and said, “I’m going to get you pregnant” as he raped her, Christl alleged.
Roberts begged forgiveness the following morning and the two then had consensual sex and tried to get back together, Christl said. Roberts, however, showed up drunk on Thanksgiving and he attacked her, according to Christl.
On May 1, 2008, Roberts is accused of attacking his girlfriend in an alley of a Huntington Beach bar, but when he later apologized she came over to his apartment, where he allegedly raped her, saying, “I want to get you pregnant,” Christl said.
Both women did get pregnant and eventually had abortions and suffered from depression and were suicidal, Christl alleged.
On Mother’s Day in 2008, Roberts and his wife got into another fight as their son jumped on the defendant’s back as she tried to get the boy to call police, but Roberts broke her phone, Christl said.
Roberts is also accused of threatening the girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend and a platonic friend of his wife’s, Christl said.
Roberts’ attorney, John Barnett, said both women were lying and later filed a civil suit against Roberts and the Huntington Beach police. That suit is pending.
“Although they started off as rivals they became a team,” Barnett said. “It’s not shocking that their stories begin to line up.”
The defense attorney noted the two did not initially report the rape allegations to police. Barnett also alleged that the wife tried to extort money from Roberts with her accusations and when he did not capitulate after she filed the lawsuit against him.
Barnett told jurors the women sent the defendant several lewd and affectionate texts, voice mails and e-mail messages after the alleged attacks.
Roberts — who was fired from the Huntington Beach police force in April 2010 — faces charges that include eight counts of false imprisonment, three counts of criminal threats, two counts each of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, and one count each of rape of a spouse, rape, forced sodomy, vandalism and dissuading a witness by force, all felonies, according to court records.