A Building Employee Kills for No Reason
(‘Low Maintenance,’ Forensic Files)
We hear about DNA more than any other type of evidence on Forensic Files. And rightly so.
Wrongful accusations have arisen from shaky science behind bite wound analysis (Ray Krone), polygraphs (Paula Nawrocki), and some arson investigations (Paul Camiolo).
Inside the investigation. DNA tests, on the other hand, always seem to play the hero’s role. They lived up to their reputation in “Low Maintenance,” the Forensic Files episode about Jenna Verhaalen’s murder.
Either of the two most likely suspects could have ended up behind razor if not for analysis of genetic material found at the crime scene.
For this post, I looked for more details on the case and information on how Jenna’s family members — who didn’t give on-camera interviews to Forensic Files — reacted to the tragedy. And I checked to see where the real killer is today. So let’s get started on the recap of “Low Maintenance” along with extra information from internet research:
Go, team. Jenna Lynn Verhaalen was born on February 23, 1988 to Dina and Jim Verhaalen. She attended Victoria West High School in Victoria, Texas and had a lot of school spirit.
“Here comes Jenna Verhaalen,” recounts an Austin American-Statesman story about a rally for the West Warriors HS football team in 2005. “She’s wearing a red T-shirt that says ‘Finish the Drive in 05.’ She’s got on a denim skirt and Western boots, just like her friends.”
According to “To Stalk a Co-ed,” an episode of A Time to Kill, Jenna was also bubbly and enjoyed laughing and playing pranks.
On her way up. She started dating Spencer Hood while still in high school and they both attended Blinn College, a two-year school in the Texas town of Bryan.
She supported herself by waiting tables at Wings ‘N More in College Station—home to Texas A&M University — and lived in a popular residence for students, Autumn Woods Apartments on Hollowhill Drive.
In spring 2008, everything was going smoothly for the 20-year-old Jenna. She was studying for a career in government. Her on-and-off relationship with Spencer was back on.
No joke. On the last night of her life, she worked from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the restaurant. Afterward, she picked up coffee at Starbucks and invited Spencer over to study. He left Jenna’s apartment around midnight, calling later to say goodnight.
The next day, April 9, 2008, Spencer went to Jenna’s apartment to pick up a book and found Jenna lying on her side on the floor of her bedroom. At first he thought she was playing a trick.
He tried calling out her name, then turned her face up. In a move that would later cast suspicion on him, Spencer asked a passerby to call 911 instead of doing it himself.
Suffocated by hand. First responders arrived to find that rigor mortis had set in. Initially, Jenna showed no signs of a violent death. But police noticed that a lamp lay sideways on the floor and her bedding was torn away from the mattress, suggesting a struggle. There were a few blood droplets.
A medical examiner identified the body’s petechial hemorrhages and crushed larynx as signs of manual strangulation. It couldn’t be determined whether or not the attacker had sexually assaulted her.
Police found no evidence of a break-in, a likely sign that someone close to her committed the crime.
Pressed for details. As Forensic Files watchers know, the romantic partner who claims to have just discovered the body usually caused the death. And making himself even more suspect, Spencer had fled shortly after the murder.
When police caught up with him, Spencer explained that he left town to take comfort among family members. He said that he and Jenna were in love, got along well, and planned to transfer to Texas State University together. He acknowledged that they had broken up and gotten back together multiple times.
Then, he had to withstand seriously intrusive questioning. Spencer became embarrassed when investigators prodded him for details about his sex life with the victim, according to Bryan Police Department Det. Steven Fry. When they inquired as to whether they had a lot of sex, he said that they did sometimes, not a whole lot, and that it was consensual. Asked if the sex ever got rough, he said no, adding that Jenna was “pretty traditional.”
Buddy vouches for him. Police also obliged him to remove his shirt to check for wounds the victim might have inflicted while defending herself.
Fortunately, Spencer’s ordeal was soon mitigated. His roommate substantiated the timeline for the alibi that Spencer had given to the police. But it was the DNA that handed him his freedom. Blood at the scene and skin under Jenna’s fingernails contained DNA that didn’t match Spencer’s.
Spencer was cleared.
Ill repute. Next up, police looked into a dicey-seeming young man called Sean Stevens on Forensic Files and Sean Underwood on A Time to Kill. Students who were playing volleyball outside Jenna’s apartment the night of the murder identified him as a suspicious-looking shirtless guy who walked past them. He lived in the same complex and had a direct view into Jenna’s place from his balcony one floor up.
Forensic Files didn’t mention it, but Sean had a visiting brother named Justin who became a suspect as well. Sean had a reputation as a heavy drinker and he and Justin were known for antagonizing others, students told the police. They remembered that Sean had once stood on his balcony and shouted obnoxious comments down at Jenna.
The brothers fled to their parents’ house in Oklahoma, but police found them. According to Forensic Files, Sean got extremely nervous during questioning, started shaking, and admitted he drank so much on the night of the murder that he couldn’t account for all his whereabouts.
Brothers ruled out. Justin had visible bruises under his eye and elsewhere. He told police he got them during a bar fight.
Luckily for Sean and Justin, receipts from bars backed up their story.
And better yet, their DNA didn’t match the evidence from the crime scene.
Nor did the DNA of dozens of men from the area who voluntarily gave samples.
Uninvited guest? Then, Jenna’s parents remembered that she mentioned occasionally coming home to find objects mysteriously out of place in her apartment. And Jenna herself had once stepped out of the shower to find a handyman in her apartment. The building employee hadn’t asked her permission to enter. He retreated out the door after she rebuked him.
His name was Jeremiah Rosser. Called Jeremy, he seemed like a long shot as a suspect at first. The son of a minister, Jeremy was the father of two children and looked more like a clean-cut football player than a creepy intruder.
Jeremy, who was in his late 20s, had no criminal record and willingly gave a DNA sample.
Police interviewed his boss, who said that Jeremy had a work order at Jenna’s apartment around the time she discovered him inside her place. (Jeremy said he didn’t hear the shower running and thought no one was home.)
Finally, a break. But a laptop computer stolen from another apartment turned up among his possessions. And Jeremy had an ex-wife who resembled Jenna. She told police he had choked her once during a fight.
Then, DNA stepped in and solved he case. Jeremy’s matched the evidence from the crime scene.
Police arrested him in February 2009 and placed him in Brazos County Jail on $175,000 bail.
According to reporting from theeagle.com, Verhaalen’s apartment complex “was buzzing Monday night with word of Rosser’s arrest” with one student saying that “we’re pretty traumatized.”
Capital punishment off the table. Investigators theorized that Jeremy was already in Jenna’s apartment when she came home — he had been scared away the previous time he entered her place and now was back to carry out his plan. He had access to a master key through his job. He was there to burglarize the place or he intended to rape her, or both, but had to wait until Spencer left that night. With Jenna alone, he attacked her and she tried to fight him off, acquiring the skin cells under her fingernails.
The prosecutors couldn’t press for the death penalty under Texas law because they lacked evidence that he committed another felony along with the murder.
Shortly before the trial was set to begin, Jeremy made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty in return for a 55-year sentence with a chance of parole after serving half of that time. A jury trial could have meant 99 years.
Confronted with grief. Three members of Jenna’s family spoke as Jeremy sat in his orange prison uniform in court.
Jenna’s mother, Dina, said that Jeremy would never understand the crime’s effect on the family. Jenna’s sister, Diana, said that she would try to forgive him.
Jim Verhaalen, Jenna’s father, was not quite as generous as the women. As TheEagle.com quoted him:
I want you to know that every time you move from a prison to another prison, I will come and meet with the warden to let them know about the monster you are. I will be at your parole hearing to make sure you aren’t let out in 27 and a half years.
Negligence or not. Today, Jeremy Rosser resides in in the Memorial unit in Rosharon, Texas, and is eligible for parole in May of 2036.
The Verhaalens initiated legal action against Autumn Woods owner Sunridge Management Corp. The defendants held that Jenna’s death didn’t result from any act or omission on their part and that Jeremy had access to apartment keys because he legitimately needed to enter at times. (It’s not clear who won the suit or whether the parties reached a settlement.)
In the years after the murder, the surviving Verhaalens took comfort in helping others. A website for Bridges To Life, a group that helps crime victims and works with offenders to prevent recidivism, lists Dina as a regional coordinator. Jenna’s sister, Diana, got a mention in Enterprise-Journal on April 9, 2012 for her work in Thailand as a Free Burma Ranger.
Aftermath for the boyfriend. Autumn Woods, the apartment complex, has been absorbed by Blinn and renamed College Edge. Apparently, it is also known as Fifteen12, and has a lot of bad Yelp reviews.
Spencer Hood stayed in Texas, got a degree from Texas Lutheran University and went on to have a career in recruiting. There’s no word on what happened to Sean, the falsely accused neighbor, but both he and Spencer can thank routine DNA testing for enabling them to move on with their own lives after a tragic death and a harrowing investigation.
That’s all for this post. Until next time, cheers. — RR
Watch the Forensic Files episode on YouTube
The A Time to Kill episode is available to stream on Amazon, but it costs $1.99, even if you have Prime.
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