KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man who was released on bond in a burglary case used snacks to lure a 6-year-old girl into his motel room in the southwest Missouri tourist town of Branson and strangled her, court records say.
John P. Roberts, 55, of Branson, remained jailed without bond Monday in Taney County after making his first court appearance on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Jasmine Miller. Roberts met with his public defender and was scheduled to appear in court next on March 10, online court records show. They do not identify the public defender.
A probable cause statement said the girl’s body was found Saturday under the bed in the Windsor Inn room where Roberts was staying alone. Police said in a news release that the discovery was made while officers were searching the area after receiving a lost child report.
Taney County Prosecutor Jeffrey Merrell said the girl and her family were also living at the motel. “My understanding is that this was an extended stay motel and that this was a temporary living arrangement,” he said.
The Windsor Inn is on Branson’s 76 Strip and a short walk from several attractions, including a water park and theater.
Paul Dubois, 36, of Branson, whose daughter was a friend of Jasmine’s, is working to organize a candlelight vigil. Dubois, who said he is “fighting a brain tumor and cancer,” recalled the first time he saw Jasmine during a birthday party for his daughter. He said the girl approached him when he was unable to push children on park swings.
“She hugged me and said it doesn’t matter the fact that I can’t do what other parents can do,” Dubois said.
Police said it appears Roberts acted alone. He was released from jail earlier this month after posting $171 in bail in a Taney County burglary case.
The probable cause statement in that case said Roberts told police that he needed money for food, and “would arrange to pay the money back.” Police found $23 in Roberts’ wallet and say he told them that’s what was left from what he stole. His attorney in that case, Judson Wall, didn’t immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Merrell said Monday that when Roberts’ bond amount on the burglary charge was being decided during a Feb. 10 hearing, an assistant prosecuting attorney negotiated for a lower bond in hopes that the burglary victim could eventually be reimbursed.
“Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight and knowing what has happened this weekend, then everyone in the world would have made an effort to keep him in jail,” the Springfield News-Leader quoted Merrell as saying. “As a practical matter, for burglary defendants who have not been proven guilty to be released on bond — and sometimes released on their own recognizance — it is just common that people are released.”
Kristan Patterson, who used to live near Roberts, told KSPR-TV that she spoke to Roberts every day and knew him to be a kind man.
Windsor Inn resident Tammy Meyer said her children played with Jasmine and she and her 17-year-old daughter helped search for the girl before she was found.
“She was just a doll,” Meyer said. “I think I can speak for everyone here. We are in shock.”