SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A fired Huntington Beach police officer is on trial for allegedly raping, stalking, falsely imprisoning and beating his estranged wife and his girlfriend, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
John Barnett, James Roberts III’s defense lawyer, however, told jurors his client’s accusers are liars.
Roberts — fired from the Huntington Beach police force in April 2010 — faces a variety of felony charges, namely 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. He also faces one count each of rape of a spouse, rape, forced sodomy, vandalism and dissuading a witness by force.
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.
He also said the marriage began to unravel about three years later. It was around this time, Roberts’ wife saw multiple texts and calls on his cell phone from other women, including a stripper, and kicked him out of their home, according to Christl.
Roberts reportedly began dating the other alleged victim in the case in 2007, the prosecutor said.
“The defendant was a very jealous person, controlling and he abused his position as a police officer,” Christl said. The prosecutor said Roberts would use police computers to do unauthorized searches on his lover’s exes.
He also accused Roberts of drinking to excess and often spiraling “out of control” before snapping. After beating and sexually assaulting the women he would “lure the women back with his loving words,” Christl said.
The DA says a psychiatric expert will testify about how an abusive man pulls victims into the “cycle of violence,” and keeps them coming back, Christl said.
The girlfriend told the DA she spent about $1,000 replacing phones that the defendant allegedly wrecked during their on-and off-again relationship. She also maintained that Roberts threatened her ex-boyfriend and a platonic friend.
On July 22, 2007, while his estranged wife was in Arizona visiting with a new boyfriend, Roberts called his wife and allegedly said she was a “whore and a slut.” He also threatened to beat her to death, Christl said. The DA added that Roberts, using a propane tank, set fire to some of the wife’s furniture.
That same night Roberts allegedly forced his girlfriend to have sex, Christl said.
The following day, Roberts called his estranged wife saying he was sorry and he wanted 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, Christl said.
On July 24, 2007, when the wife returned home to see the burned furniture she called police to report the defendant had threatened her and was suicidal, Christl said. A police dispatcher — Erin Berry-Dereszynski — instead alerted Roberts, the prosecutor said.
At the time, Berry-Dereszynski was living with her fiance and Roberts, Christl said.
Eventually, Berry-Dereszynski grew to believe the estranged wife’s allegations and she asked her fiance to kick Roberts out, the prosecutor said.
Christl alleges on Halloween 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.
Roberts begged forgiveness the following morning and the two then had consensual sex, Christl said. Roberts, however, showed up drunk on Thanksgiving and he attacked her again, according to Christl.
On May 1, 2008, Roberts is accused of attacking his girlfriend in an alley of a Huntington Beach bar. 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. Christl says both women suffered from depression and were suicidal.
Roberts’ attorney, John Barnett, said both women were lying. Both women have 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 neither woman initially reported the rape allegations. Barnett also alleged that the estranged wife tried to extort money from Roberts and when he did not give in she filed the lawsuit.
Barnett told jurors the women sent the defendant several lewd and affectionate texts, voice mails and email messages after the alleged attacks.