Slow progress in child-murder case explained
In battling a defense motion that accused murderer Ulysses Roberson’s due process rights were violated, three law enforcement officers testified they never rested on the 20-year-old case.
Two retired South Lake Tahoe police officers and an FBI agent said uncooperative witnesses, tips leading nowhere and Roberson’s unavailability slowed progress in the investigation that Roberson, 56, allegedly killed his 4-year-old son and hid the boy’s body.
Objections, mostly from the defense, dotted the Tuesday hearing in El Dorado County Superior Court, which could end up continuing the case or dismissing the matter entirely.
“It’s all or nothing,” said Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe. “Playing for all the marbles, except it’s no game.”
Tom Conner, called to the stand first by Uthe, recalled how he took two reports from Judy Olive who was concerned about the whereabouts of her son, Alexander Olive.
Roberson seemed to be the immediate primary suspect. The man who authorities said used astrology to lure women into a cult-like atmosphere was later picked up in Los Angeles by Conner, who was armed with an assault warrant, and driven back to Tahoe.
During that trip back north, Roberson said he didn’t know where Alexander was and guessed he might be in the Bay Area with Judy Olive’s family.
Ken Hunt, a former lead investigator on the case, filed charges twice but was rebuked by the district attorney’s office claiming insufficient evidence.
Hunt tried to speak to a person who might have had crucial information – Pam Lewis, at the University of California, Berkeley – but was rebuked. He helped the television series “Unsolved Mysteries” contact sources in airing a segment on Alexander’s disappearance. “Well over 100” tips were chased down, Hunt said.
He even created a closet and child’s body in hoping to explain a pool of blood found in the Tahoe Keys home where Roberson lived at the time of Alexander’s disappearance.
“It was constantly worked on,” Hunt said.
After FBI Director Louis Freeh took over in 1993 and modified rules for agents helping state and local jurisdictions in missing-child cases, the FBI branch in South Lake Tahoe assisted in finding Alexander, Agent Chris Campion testified.
Campion focused on physical evidence, including blood on a blanket. Using DNA technology in the 1990s and blood drawn from Roberson and Olive, the FBI lab determined the blood on the blanket was the offspring of the two adults.
One Sacramento agent specializing in missing-child cases worked to build a successful rapport with Lewis, who ended up cooperating. Lewis told investigators she last saw Alexander wrapped in a blanket with a possible limb sticking out, Campion said.
Another agent in Cleveland tracked down Raj Roberson, a key member of the Roberson clan, Campion said. Raj Roberson said she saw Alexander floating lifelessly in a bathtub and later went on a car ride with Roberson, who might have used the opportunity to dump the boy’s body, Campion said.
Information provided by the two women was instrumental in the case going forward and the district attorney’s office charging Roberson with murder and his extradition from a Washington prison.
The investigation was “complex” and never halted, Campion said.
“It never stopped,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped today.”
The afternoon session was used by the defense’s witness, Dr. Deborah Davis, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. A memory expert, Davis went through an exhaustive Power Point presentation on how memory is collected, stored and recalled.
When defense attorney Ken Bonham asked about people who incorporate lies in their memory, and Davis replied people could end up believing their lies, Roberson nodded his head numerous times. Although a variety of factors could influence memories, including biased questioning by interviewers, Davis said time is influential.
“Twenty years is a long time,” she said. “We see memory degradation within minutes.”
Roberson, who was allowed to dress in Muslim garb of a white robe and blue headpiece, faces life in prison if convicted of murder with special circumstances. A trial date has not been scheduled.
He remains in El Dorado County Jail at no bail.
Judge Suzanne Kingsbury directed the attorneys to find a date to continue the hearing, likely sometime at the end of July.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Three Lake Tahoe nonprofits received about $5,000 in grants recently from the Bessie Minor Swift Foundation.