Berkeley Hills homicide began with break-in, confrontation

The alleged killer, Jonah Roper, "admitted to assaulting the victims with a knife, with the intent to kill," police wrote in charging papers.

Berkeley Hills homicide began with break-in, confrontation
Police and firefighters on Overlook Road in the Berkeley Hills on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. Emilie Raguso/Aipsasiamedia

A man accused of stabbing his mother Saturday at her Berkeley Hills home broke down the door and confronted her just before the deadly attack, according to court papers.

A teenage girl witnessed part of the crime and called 911 to ask for help just after 12:30 p.m., police wrote.

She told police her father was "downstairs breaking things" and that her grandmother was also downstairs, according to emergency dispatches reviewed by The Scanner.

The first officer to arrive found 60-year-old Maura Ghizzoni stabbed in the heart. She was pronounced dead at the scene, inside her home in the 900 block of Overlook Road.

Jonah Roper, 36, has now been charged with Ghizzoni's murder and the attempted murder of both his stepfather — he sustained cuts to the hand — and a neighborhood resident who was stabbed in a home nearby.

That woman was treated at Highland Hospital but has since returned home to recover.

Police say Roper chased his stepfather to the 1000 block of Middlefield Road, then broke into a home and stabbed a woman in her 70s multiple times. Then he stole a car, authorities have said.

"During a Mirandized interview, Roper admitted to assaulting the victims with a knife, with the intent to kill," police wrote in charging papers.

On Saturday, Berkeley police officers spotted Roper as he tried to flee the area and arrested him on Gilman Street about 2 miles away.

Officers used their vehicles to stop his car, according to community members.

In addition to murder and two counts of attempted murder, Roper was also charged Tuesday afternoon with home-invasion robbery, burglary, felony evasion, vehicle theft and having a stolen car.

His charges include a number of allegations that could increase his sentence if he's convicted, such as that he used a deadly weapon and abused a position of trust, that the victims were particularly vulnerable and that he was on some kind of supervised release, such as probation, at the time of the homicide.

Charging papers reference felony convictions for Roper dating back to 2010.

Berkeley Hills murder suspect Jonah Roper 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.

"Periods of stability & periods of breakdown"

Roper has a long history of violence and psychiatric problems, according to his court files, which Aipsasiamedia reviewed in detail this week.

He was once arrested after breaking into his mother's home while she was there, according to court papers, and disturbing other Berkeley Hills residents on the same night.

Authorities referenced that call Saturday in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing, noting that Ghizzoni called police about Roper in 2021, according to emergency dispatches reviewed by The Scanner.

Roper suffers from mental health issues "as well as substance abuse issues," a police dispatcher advised officers Saturday.

Court records reviewed by The Scanner revealed that Roper has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and was prescribed drugs to treat schizophrenia, as well as other medications.

Read more about the Overlook Road homicide case on TBS.

"He has a history of mental illness that has included periods of stability & periods of breakdown," Ghizzoni told the court in 2009, according to a letter in Roper's file.

According to jail records, Roper remained in custody at Santa Rita Jail on Wednesday morning and was set for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. at Wiley Manuel Courthouse.

Roper is being held without bail in connection with the murder case, according to court records.

Mental health resources are available if you need help.

- Berkeley Mental Health: 510-981-5900
- Specialized Care Unit: 510-948-0075
- Alameda County 24-hour crisis line: 800-309-2131
- Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988