Man accused of killing civil rights activist argues DNA was illegally seized, planted at crime scene

Ronn Jermaine Bell Sr. | Photo Source: WAFB
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Attorneys representing Ronn Jermaine Bell Sr., the man accused of strangling Baton Rouge icon, Sadie Roberts-Joseph, before allegedly abandoning her body in the trunk of a car, accused investigators of using chunks of hair snatched from Bell’s head without consent to falsely link him to the crime scene.

Documents filed Friday, July 19, show the defense argued Bell was arrested Monday, July 15, for failing to comply with requirements related to his sex offender status. During that arrest, Bell was allegedly questioned about Roberts-Joseph’s death, was photographed, and had “chunks” of hair seized from two places on his head.

The filing goes on to show an arrest warrant issued Tuesday, July 16 states DNA evidence from Bell was confirmed to be on Roberts-Joseph’s body at the time of her death.

"He was swabbed for DNA after law enforcement seized chunks of [Bell’s] hair. The DNA in his saliva and his hair will be the same DNA. Law enforcement seized his hair before they executed the affidavit for the arrest warrant. For what purpose would law enforcement need chunks of his hair, prior to executing the search warrant? For what purpose would law enforcement need hair and then saliva, in that order? Saliva alone would be sufficient to compare any and all DNA that allegedly was found. However, the seizure of chunks of his hair in the possession of ‘bad actors’ exposes him to a prejudice that he may be unable to recover from and unduly prejudiced by, especially if the hair that was seized from his head by law enforcement on Monday, July 15, 2019, is the hair that was referenced in the arrest warrant affidavit (from July 16, 2019) as being “found on the deceased,” Bell’s attorneys wrote in the filing.

The attorneys further argued that a durag was illegally seized Thursday, July 18, and that leaders at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison have delayed their attempts to bring electronic devices into the prison so they can film the areas on Bell’s head where hair was taken.

Roberts-Joseph was discovered in the trunk of a car at roughly 3:45 p.m. on July 12. The car was located about three and a half miles away from her home.

Investigators learned Bell was a tenant in one of Roberts-Joseph’s rental homes. They suspect he was behind several months on his rent and that he owed about $1,200, department officials announced in a press conference Tuesday, July 16. According to the arrest report, Bell admitted to being behind on rent payments and said he and Roberts-Joseph had agreed he could stay at the home he was renting as long as he paid some money to her. He also reportedly admitted to being in the same area where the victim’s car was found at the time the vehicle was abandoned, which was confirmed with video surveillance, the report notes.

Bell’s sex offender charges stem from a 2004 case involving the rape of an 8-year-old girl. Bell pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexual battery under the best interest of the victim and her family. He served the entire sentence, so he was not under probation, but still has to follow certain guidelines as a sex offender. He was released from prison on April 12, 2013.

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