'Erratic, violent': Berkeley Hills murder suspect has dark past

A police officer described Jonah Roper's behavior as "erratic, violent and sexually inappropriate" after he broke into his mother's home in 2021.

'Erratic, violent': Berkeley Hills murder suspect has dark past
Jonah Roper was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of killing his mother, Maura Ghizzoni, at her Berkeley Hills home. Jonah Roper/Soundcloud

A man alleged to have killed his mother Saturday in a brutal stabbing in Berkeley has a documented history of psychiatric problems and violence, according to court records reviewed by The Berkeley Scanner.

Jonah Roper, 36, is alleged to have stabbed Maura Ghizzoni, a 60-year-old midwife and artist, at her Berkeley Hills home in the 900 block of Overlook Road.

Roper's stepfather was also wounded in the attack, sustaining cuts to the hands. He did not require hospitalization.

A second woman who was stabbed, who was attacked while visiting a neighbor about a block from Ghizzoni's house, is now recovering at home after a brief hospitalization.

This week, The Scanner reviewed Roper's extensive criminal court file and found a history of violence and mental illness dating back to at least 2005 when Roper was just 18.

During one of his crimes, he reportedly broke into his mother's home after disturbing other Berkeley Hills residents the same night.

On April 29, 2021, according to court records from that year, Roper "forced his way" into his mother's home in the Park Hills neighborhood.

When she called police, Ghizzoni told BPD her son "did not have permission to be on the property," according to court papers. Officers responded and arrested him.

"Roper's mother requested a stay away order be granted … but she did not want to press charges," police wrote.

Maura Ghizzoni was killed Saturday at her Berkeley Hills home on Overlook Road. Maura Ghizzoni/LinkedIn

Earlier that night, according to the records, residents on Tamalpais Road, about 2 miles away in the Berkeley Hills, called BPD about a man who was exposing himself and touching his penis as he looked at them through the window at about 8 p.m.

The peeper was later identified as Jonah Roper.

The residents said they thought the man had "tried the door handle to their residence and he remained on their property for approximately 15 minutes."

Several hours later, Roper went to a home on his mother's block where he "rang the doorbell … and refused to leave" shortly after 11 p.m., police wrote.

Officers responded but Roper was gone. Then he turned up at his mother's house, according to court papers.

Berkeley police arrested Roper on suspicion of indecent exposure, prowling and peeping, according to charging papers from 2021.

During his arrest, police wrote, Roper slapped one officer on the head and spit on a different officer.

At the time of the 2021 incident, Roper was on probation for domestic violence.

Police also noted in court papers that Roper had already been arrested in Berkeley four times that year: in February on suspicion of domestic battery, in March on suspicion of prowling, in April on suspicion of domestic violence and again in April, on a case from UCPD, on suspicion of robbery and other charges.

Police also linked him to a sexual battery in April of that year "where he was identified as the suspect who touched a victim's breast," police wrote.

"It is clear that his behavior is erratic, violent and sexually inappropriate," a Berkeley police officer wrote at the time. "It also shows that the pattern of being arrested and released from custody has not deterred Roper from continuing his erratic behavior."

Roper was charged with two counts of indecent exposure and two counts of battery on a peace officer, all misdemeanors, in May 2021.

A subsequent plea deal resulted in a sentence of probation.

2021 domestic violence, psych hold in Berkeley

April 2021 appears to have been a difficult time for Roper and those around him.

Weeks before he reportedly forced his way into his mother's house, he attacked his girlfriend and fought with police officers who arrested him, according to court papers. He was ultimately placed on a psychiatric hold.

On April 2, 2021, multiple witnesses called police when they saw Roper "in a loud argument" with a woman in the Wells Fargo parking lot at 1095 University Ave. in Berkeley, police wrote.

When the woman tried to flee, Roper chased after her and attacked her, police wrote.

"Roper threw the victim to the ground and pushed her head against the passenger side of a white Honda" — hard enough to cause a dent, police wrote.

"Roper punched the victim in the head multiple times, pulled the victim's hair and kicked the victim," according to BPD.

During his arrest, Roper repeatedly tried to kick police and refused to obey orders, BPD wrote. Officers ultimately placed him in a restraint device as he continued to try to grab, kick and headbutt them, according to charging papers.

One sergeant hurt his knee during the arrest, police wrote.

Roper was ultimately charged with a single misdemeanor count of domestic violence and later placed on court probation, which is unsupervised, records show.

Later that year, Roper was charged with punching a sheriff's deputy in the face while he was in custody at Santa Rita Jail.

According to charging papers, he ignored the deputy's orders while being taken back to his cell and then "aggressively and violently lunged" at him before punching him.

Roper was charged with misdemeanor battery in June 2021. The outcome of that case remains pending.

Maura Ghizzoni was a strong advocate for her son

In November 2008, when Roper was 21 years old, he was charged with felony battery on two Santa Clara County custodial officers.

In the months that followed, he was discharged from jail into Gladman Hospital, a locked psychiatric facility in Oakland, for stabilization, according to the court file.

Court papers from December 2008 described Roper as "conserved in the Alameda County Public Guardian's Offices."

According to a letter from his mother that was also in the file, Roper had been in custody at Santa Rita Jail in October 2008 when he underwent some kind of mental health crisis and needed to be moved to Santa Clara County "for greater psychiatric stabilization."

He was placed on an emergency psychiatric hold and deemed "a danger to self & others at that time."

"He had decompensated severely enough at Santa Rita," Ghizzoni wrote, addressing a Santa Clara County judge and DA, "to warrant this type of transfer."

"He has a history of mental illness that has included periods of stability & periods of breakdown," she told them.

Ghizzoni wrote that something went wrong during the booking process at the transfer facility, which may have been Santa Clara's main jail.

"He was already unstable, not on meds, anxious & easily agitated," she wrote. "His head knocked back & hit a guard in the nose, (I am sorry for any injury sustained in that moment)."

Roper "was then tackled by many guards, and reportedly bit one in the chest that lay face to face on top of him, possibly covering his face," she wrote.

According to her letter, which cited police reports, the guards then punched Roper in the head and kicked him. He sustained a broken nose.

Ghizzoni also described "a 10 minute gap in the videos, from the moment he is tackled & surrounded by guards, until he is wheeled away, strapped into a chair. His beating is mysteriously missing in the tapes."

In her letter, Ghizzoni asked the judge and DA "to see & consider with a clear & open mind, the full circumstances surrounding these charges… in pursuit of a resolution that truly addresses the problem."

She asked the court to put what happened in the context of her son's struggles.

"He was there only … to receive better psychiatric stabilization," Ghizzoni wrote.

In her letter, She also questioned Santa Clara's policies for handling psychiatric transfers and said she had learned the county had "no documented procedure" for them, "which is a grave oversight."

"Do your guards have training in handling a mentally unstable patient?" she asked. "Did their actions lead to further agitation?"

At the time of her letter in 2009, she wrote that Jonah was now "stable, on meds, in a program, functioning well, taking classes at the local Community College."

She pleaded with authorities to put aside "the mindset of retribution" in favor of a "just, reasonable" outcome that would lead to "continued stability for Jonah & future public safety as well."

"Convicting him as a felon with a strike does not address his mental status at the time, nor does it add anything that ensures his continued stability," Ghizzoni wrote. "It merely brands him as a criminal & adds strong limitations to continuing to move forward to being a contributing, productive citizen."

Roper ultimately entered no-contest pleas in that case in March 2010 and was placed on three years of probation.

Jonah Roper's blood linked him to a 2009 crime scene

The rest of Roper's court file paints a disturbing picture of a man who has grappled for years with mental illness.

There are gaps in the record, but the downward trajectory is clear.

One of the earliest crimes listed dates back to 2009.

On Dec. 19, 2009, Roper broke into MacManus and Sons Celtic Jewelry, then located at 1778 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley, according to court papers.

Records show he cut a hole in the front window of the jewelry shop and stole a rack of earrings from the front counter.

"Blood was recovered inside the business as well as the point of entry," police wrote in a subsequent report that was not filed until April 2011.

The blood ultimately "matched to the known DNA of Jonah Roper," police wrote.

At the time of the April 2011 report, Roper was being held at John George Psychiatric Pavilion, which is where he was arrested at the time.

The same month, Roper entered a no-contest plea in connection with the burglary case and agreed to participate in Behavioral Health Court (BHC) and be placed on five years of probation.

Court papers at the time and in the years that followed said he also went by the name of Jonah Ghizzoni-Roper.

In more recent years, he has taken on the alias "Jesus El Señor" as well, according to charging papers.

An Alameda County Behavioral Health Court progress report from June 7, 2011, described Roper as "cooperative" and said he was "making all appointments on time."

It noted, however, that he had not been tested for drugs recently and was "at risk of relapsing" on marijuana.

The report described Roper as alert and stable but said he "needs more structure."

Roper's listed diagnoses from that time included schizoaffective disorder, which can indicate that someone suffers from schizophrenia.

At the time, Roper had multiple prescriptions, including Abilify, Lexapro, Lorazepam, Cogentin and Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia.

His activities included "recovery meetings 3x/week" and his goals were employment, school and independent living.

Less than two months later, a behavioral health court report from Aug. 23, 2011, showed that Roper wasn't doing as well.

"Not making appointments," the report said. "Relapsing on cocaine and [marijuana] — unwilling to adhere to treatment plan."

The author of the report noted that Roper had been "remanded last week" because he was not following his treatment plan and said it was "uncertain at this time" whether he was taking his medication.

At the time, Roper was living in a board and care facility on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley.

The 2012 bank robbery in downtown Oakland

Case notes from September 2011, from a hearing related to the Berkeley jewelry shop burglary, said Roper had a "good attitude" and was following through on "making appointments."

In early October, notes indicated only that Roper was present at a hearing and "doing great."

A week later, he was still "doing great," the same person wrote.

On March 2012, Roper was set to be released from custody on his own recognizance "to a representative of Berkeley Mental Health," according to court papers.

As of May 1, 2012, he was in a treatment program called Cherry Hill Detox.

But his rehab efforts didn't last, according to the file.

On May 15 of that year, court records said Roper would "terminate Behavioral Health Court participation" and that his case would return to the criminal courts.

And then, on Nov. 5, 2012, Roper was arrested in connection with a bank robbery in downtown Oakland.

The Oakland Police Department wrote that he had gone into Bank of the Orient, at 360 12th St., and demanded money from the teller, claiming he had a gun.

"He then jumped over the counter and took $2,000," police wrote in charging papers. "Bank surveillance photo showed the suspect in the act."

Roper's probation officer at the time identified him from the surveillance photo. The victim also identified Roper as the bank robber, police wrote.

He was charged with robbery and could have been sent to prison as a result, according to court papers.

That didn't happen. Instead, he was placed on five years of probation.

"He does not take his probation seriously"

According to 2014 case notes from his probation officer, Roper suddenly stopped reporting to him in May of that year: "He failed to keep his scheduled appointment… without calling in to give notice for his absence."

The probation officer, Vernon Brooks, tried calling Roper to check on him on May 6, 2014.

"A man who sounded like the defendant answered and said, 'Sorry, wrong number,'" Brooks wrote.

Brooks noted that he also called Maura Ghizzoni to see if she knew where her son was.

She told him Roper had taken a bus to Miami, Florida, on May 1.

"She also stated she believed the defendant stopped taking his psychotropic medication," Brooks wrote.

When Brooks advised her that Roper had violated his probation terms by leaving the state, "Ms. Ghizzoni stated she sent a bus ticket to the defendant so he could return home."

Ghizzoni called Brooks two weeks later and told him Roper "still had not returned to California."

Brooks wrote that Roper also failed to pay more than $2,000 in fines he owed related to his conviction. The probation officer indicated that Roper was getting social security benefits of $860 a month at the time.

On a brighter note, Brooks wrote that Roper had no known new arrests since his release from custody in August 2013 and that he had passed a random drug test — testing negative for illicit drugs — in November 2013.

But Brooks' final conclusion on Roper's behavior was largely critical.

"The defendant's overall performance leaves much to be desired," he wrote. "He does not take his probation seriously."

He said Roper should be remanded into custody in county jail for at least 90 days. It was unclear from the available documents whether that happened.

Roper's psychiatric problems continued

In April 2015, Roper ended up in a diversion program through the Alameda County Superior Court system after being charged with another robbery, court records show. He had a mental health team assigned to him.

At the time, he listed his mother's house on Overlook Road as his home address.

Roper was ordered to complete a 90-day residential treatment program at the North Bay Recovery Center in San Rafael, which would be followed by three more months of "aftercare treatment which will include client residing in a Sober Living Environment."

It didn't go to plan.

According to case notes, Roper enrolled in treatment on April 17, 2015, but then "had to be hospitalized due to his mental health issues. Client is currently in the lockdown psychiatry ward at the Marin County General Hospital. Client will return back to treatment at North Bay Recovery upon his release."

Roper went back to North Bay Recovery on May 21 but continued to struggle, according to the case notes.

"After being hospitalized at Marin County General, Client went AWOL from treatment on May 26th. Client is currently hospitalized at John George [Psychiatric Hospital]."

By June 2015, Roper was released back into the Cherry Hill treatment program.

But he left Cherry Hill on June 5, 2015, "and his whereabouts are unknown at this time," according to court records.

Less than two weeks later, on June 16, 2015, Roper was charged with robbing a young woman near Gather restaurant in downtown Berkeley.

During that incident, he ripped the woman's backpack during a struggle, took her wallet by force and caused minor injuries when he pushed her to the ground, according to court papers.

The two had just met at the downtown Berkeley BART station, according to court records. Then Roper reportedly followed her to Saturn Café, which was on Allston Way at the time.

Roper and the young woman didn't know each other, according to court records, but she invited him to eat something with her in downtown Berkeley.

The robbery happened after Roper asked the woman for money, according to court transcripts. When she opened her backpack to give it to him, he reached into the bag and grabbed her wallet, police said.

Roper was on felony probation for robbery and burglary at the time, police wrote. He was also wanted on a warrant related to a different robbery.

According to court papers, the Alameda County district attorney's office dismissed that Saturn Café case several months later as part of a plea deal.

In 2017, Roper was arrested by BART police in Berkeley after vandalizing a BART car with a white Sharpie, according to court papers.

Witnesses "saw him draw a marijuana leaf and write the words Everyday next to it," police wrote. "They also saw him write Grinn," in addition to vandalizing other spots on the train.

In 2019, according to court records, Roper was arrested after slapping a woman's cellphone out of her hand at the downtown Berkeley BART station one morning in February.

After the arrest, he was taken to John George Psychiatric Hospital on a 72-hour hold.

"After the 72 hr evaluation was completed," BART police wrote, "the hospital released the suspect prior to notifying the BART Police. Roper is currently not in-custody."

Roper, who was already on probation at the time, was ultimately charged with petty theft, battery and dissuading a witness from testifying — all misdemeanors.

It ended up with another plea deal and another assignment to unmonitored court probation.

Read more about the Berkeley Hills murder case on TBS.

Roper was in custody again in March 2019, according to court papers.

On March 7 of that year, he "flooded a holding cell at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse" after blocking the drain in the sink, police wrote.

"Roper manipulated the sink to cause the water to continuously flow," according to charging papers.

Water leaked down to the lower levels of the courthouse, according to court papers, causing an estimated $15,000-$20,000 in damage to a hallway and conference room.

Roper was charged with misdemeanor vandalism in the weeks that followed but the case was ultimately dismissed.

Jonah Roper just got out of jail Aug. 29

Roper's most recent case came in August 2023 when he was charged with violating a restraining order on Kains Avenue in Berkeley three times on two subsequent days and during a fourth incident several days later.

On one of those occasions, he tried to make contact with someone at the home at 3:30 in the morning, according to charging papers.

Roper was released on his own recognizance on Aug. 29 and ordered to abide by the protective order and "attend AA/NA" twice a week, according to court records.

The Scanner is trying to learn more about those incidents and will continue to follow this story.

The killing on Overlook Road

Berkeley police and firefighters responded to the 900 block of Overlook Road in the Berkeley Hills on Saturday after neighbors reported a disturbance at about 12:30 p.m., according to initial reports.

When officers first got to the scene they found a 60-year-old woman who was unresponsive, according to preliminary reports. Officers said the woman had multiple stab wounds to the chest and at one point had a faint pulse.

She did not survive the attack, police confirmed shortly after 1:30 p.m.

A 15-year-old girl was also home at the time of the attack as was Ghizzoni's longtime partner, a 61-year-old man.

The girl is Ghizzoni's granddaughter but has been raised as the couple's daughter, according to people familiar with the situation.

2 women stabbed, 1 has died, after Berkeley Hills attack
Berkeley police said the attack at about 12:30 p.m. in the 900 block of Overlook Road was “not random.”

During the initial disturbance on Overlook Road, Ghizzoni's partner was cut by Roper, sustaining injuries to the hands, according to preliminary reports.

He fled to a neighbor's house in the 1000 block of Middlefield Road nearby.

That's where the second woman, who is in her 70s, was stabbed while visiting a friend when Roper forced his way inside and ultimately stole a car.

Responding officers spotted Roper fleeing the area and arrested him on Gilman Street near Whole Foods after a chase through town.

According to booking records, Roper is unemployed.

On Saturday, he was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, child abuse with possible great bodily injury, elder abuse, burglary and vehicle theft.

He is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

On Monday, Berkeley police declined to confirm Roper's name or share his city of residence or booking photograph.

The Scanner first reported Roper's name Saturday night after it became public in arrest records.

This week, Berkeley police also declined to name Ghizzoni as the woman who was killed.

But community members, including relatives and longtime neighbors, have identified her to The Scanner.

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