Crime

‘A bloodbath.’ For years he denied his wife’s grisly murder, but did a Macon jury believe him?

Video: Bibb coroner discusses fifth homicide in eight days

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones had some strong words after five homicides in eight days.
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Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones had some strong words after five homicides in eight days.

When asked in police interviews, Willis Deterra Roberts, known as “Wee,” said he wasn’t home when his wife was bludgeoned and stabbed to death. He was, he said, off on a week-long cocaine binge.

One of Crystal Roberts’ cousins had seen the couple together on the last night of her life. But in the days after her death, Willis Roberts was nowhere to be found.

Nine days would pass, as would his wife’s funeral, before he showed up and spoke to the police.

Despite its horrific nature, the death of 35-year-old Crystal Lavell Walker Roberts in September 2015 has not made many headlines because authorities have not divulged the crime’s details.

Those particulars have been withheld because they were all investigators had to use while seeking her killer. Incriminating physical evidence to tie anyone to the crime was hard to come by. The case the authorities built against Willis Roberts was, as many murder cases are, largely circumstantial.

Jurors heard that case this week at the murder trial of 43-year-old Willis Roberts in Bibb County Superior Court.

‘Very disturbing’

For the first time, a shocking picture of 35-year-old Crystal Roberts’ demise emerged.

Willis Roberts’ lawyer, Andrew Jenkins, warned jurors in his opening statement that what they were going to see “is very disturbing, perhaps some of the most horrific things you’ve ever seen.”

Jenkins, however, stressed that “Mr. Roberts is not responsible for this.”

An investigator described the scene as “a bloodbath.” Prosecutors said Crystal Roberts’ death was so violent that blood spatter was found on a family photo hanging on the wall. Her hands and feet had been bound behind her with duct tape. An electrical cord was wrapped around her neck.

She had died of blunt-force trauma, massive blows to the head and stab wounds, punctures that severed vital veins and arteries. There were gashes on her face, chest and shoulders. Two of her teeth were knocked out. Some of her long, pink artificial fingernails were torn off. Even so, there was little to no physical evidence linking a killer to the scene.

The timeline

Crystal Roberts, born on New Year’s Day in 1980, had been on disability for about five years after she hurt her back in a car wreck. As a teen, she attended Southwest High and Northeast High in Macon but hadn’t graduated. After earning her GED diploma, she tutored prospective college students from her home.

She was, as her mother described her to a reporter on Friday, “loving for others.”

Crystal Roberts was found dead the night of Sept. 5, 2015, a Saturday. Her sister, concerned at not hearing from her all day, had discovered her lifeless body lying face-down on the floor of the apartment where Crystal and Willis Roberts lived, at No. 407 in Glenwood Village, across Gray Highway from the east Macon Walmart.

On the night the police believe she was killed, Crystal Roberts had visited a cousin who lived maybe 10 minutes away. Crystal confided in her cousin that she was going to divorce her husband, in part because of his cocaine addiction.

That cousin, Tonya Snead, testified that Crystal told her that Willis Roberts had sold their TV and recently stolen and pawned her late father’s cameras and his bicycle. Snead said Crystal had taken to hiding household belongings from Willis Roberts and that Crystal had said, “I don’t trust my husband.”

Snead said Crystal also informed her that Willis Roberts was “after my money,” and that she could no longer tolerate his drug habit.

Snead testified that while Crystal was visiting on what would be the last night of her life, Willis Roberts himself had shown up and begged Crystal for $20. The Robertses then left Snead’s house together.

Crystal was never seen alive again. Willis Roberts, for a time anyway, also disappeared. It wasn’t until Sept. 14, two days after his wife’s funeral, that he surfaced. He went to investigators and proclaimed his innocence.

‘I never touched my wife’

Willis Deterra Roberts was arrested and charged with murder in March 2016.

He said he had gone on a nine-day, powder-cocaine-fueled bender after leaving his wife at home the night before she was found dead. She had, he told the cops, been alive when he left to go out, after she had told him to, in essence, take a hike and “go on.”

Prosecutors theorized that Crystal, who had hit the jackpot on a convenience-mart gaming machine in the days prior, may have been killed in a struggle over the winnings, which one witness suggested may have totaled $3,000. Investigators found an open, empty money box on a bed in the Roberts couple’s apartment.

When Willis Roberts spoke to investigators, for parts of more than three hours he denied harming his wife. He said his coke habit had driven him to disappear for more than a week. He spent days “driving around,” as he put it, crashing at bootleg houses in Fort Hill.

A cellphone-tracking expert informed investigators that Willis Roberts had likely returned home twice before Crystal Roberts’ body was found. Willis Roberts, though, repeatedly denied being there after leaving that Friday night, insisting to the cops, “I don’t go home high.”

He was, he said, “geeked.”

“So high you can’t remember where you were?” investigator Marcus Baker would ask him.

No, Willis Roberts had answered.

Another investigator in on the interrogation, Michael Wilson, would pounce on Willis Roberts’ seeming lack of remorse, saying that only “a monster” could keep such a secret if he were the killer.

Roberts, however, explained his demeanor, saying, “This still ain’t registered to me that my baby gone.”

He repeatedly said, “I never touched my wife.”

Acquitted

His absence in the wake of his wife’s death, and his unexplained whereabouts, were not enough for jurors to convict Willis Roberts.

On Friday afternoon, a jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for about two and a half hours before acquitting him of malice and felony murder.

Soon afterward, Willis Roberts, dressed in the same short-sleeve, soft-blue button-up shirt he had worn in court all week, walked out a free man. His late wife’s mother sat sobbing in the courtroom gallery.

Bibb District Attorney David Cooke told The Telegraph that he had known it would be “a difficult case going in.”

“We did all that we could to get justice for Crystal,” Cooke said. “While we respect the jury’s verdict, there’s no doubt in my mind that if we had to do it over again we would still fight for her.”

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.


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