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Attorney for Man Charged with Murdering Activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph Claims DNA was Unlawfully Seized, Planted at Crime Scene

The attorney for a man charged in the murder of Louisiana activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph is now questioning if police unlawfully seized her client’s DNA, and planted it on the victim’s body hours before his arrest, according to The Advocate.

Roberts-Joseph,75, a beloved leader in the Baton Rouge community and founder of the city’s African-American history museum, was discovered dead in the trunk of her car on July 12. Her cause of death was suffocation, and police ruled her death a homicide.

Ronn Bell and Sadie Roberts-Joseph

Ronn Bell (left) is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of beloved Baton Rouge activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph. (Photos: East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office / WAFB video screenshot)

Last Tuesday, police announced the arrest of Ronn Jermaine Bell, who was renting one of the Louisiana activist’s homes and owed about $1,200 in back rent. Bell, 38, now faces a first-degree murder charge in Ms. Robert-Joseph’s killing.

According to an arrest report, Bell admitted to being in the area around the time the victim’s car was abandoned, which video surveidllance confirmed. Investigators said Bell’s DNA was also found on the activist’s body, however the suspect denied being in the vehicle and or seeing Roberts-Joseph in the days before her death.

Sara Clarke, a public defender representing Bell, filed a motion Friday requesting to bring a camera into the local prison to take photos of Bell after she claims authorities snipped “two chucks of hair” from his head, then swabbed for saliva before arresting him in Robert-Joseph’s death, The Advocate reported. Clarke argues that the DNA was seized without Bell’s consent or a search warrant.

Bell, who previously spent seven years in jail after pleading guilty to sexual battery of an 9-year-old girl in 2007, was already jailed for failing to pay the annual $60 fee required to register as a sex offender when he was arrested for the activist’s death. Police booked him into jail Monday for his failure to complete the registration; that’s when Clarke claims they seized samples of his hair.

The next day, police announced Bell’s arrest in the Roberts-Joseph case.

“To date, my client has not been provided with a copy of any search warrant for the seizure of anything,” Clarke told the newspaper.

In her motion, the attorney questioned “for what purpose would law enforcement need hair and then saliva, in that order?” arguing that “saliva alone would be sufficient to compare any and all DNA that allegedly was found.” Clarke also questioned whether the hair that was “seized from [Bell’s] 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.”

“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,” she added.

A spokesman for Baton Rouge police acknowledged collecting samples of Bell’s hair and saliva, but only after obtaining a search warrant permitting them to take both, the Advocate reported. Those samples were then sent to the State Police crime lab, and later cross-referenced with DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime.

“To the best of our knowledge, Bell was not harmed in any way during his apprehension and arrest,” department spokesman spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McKneely Jr. told the paper.

Clarke remains skeptical, however, and accuses police of violating her client’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The Baton Rouge community is still reeling from the death of Roberts-Joseph, who is described as a “tireless advocate of peace.”

I’m heartbroken that our community has lost such a kind and selfless soul in such a violent, tragic manner,” East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said in a statement. “I have known and loved Mrs. Sadie Roberts-Joseph for years and admire and respect her dedication to education and community.”

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

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