Defense could shift focus to estranged husband in 2011 disappearance of Va. woman

Since Bethany Anne Decker disappeared in January 2011, the only named suspect has been Ronald Roldan, the boyfriend with whom she shared an Ashburn, Virginia, apartment. But on Thursday, Roldan’s lawyer told a judge that her estranged husband has never been eliminated as a suspect, and the judge granted the defense access to the husband’s military records.

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Douglas Fleming said he would issue an order that would instruct the U.S. Army to turn over relevant military records of Emile Decker, who was a National Guardsman serving in Afghanistan at the time his estranged wife disappeared.

Public defender Ashi Mehrotra told Fleming that investigators did a “woefully inadequate job,” and that Emile Decker “failed a polygraph regarding her disappearance.” He didn’t specify whether that lie detector test was the one Emile Decker took shortly after Bethany Anne Decker’s disappearance.

Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office investigators initially looked at Emile Decker; they generally investigate a partner or partners whenever a married person disappears.

Sheriff’s Office Det. Mark Bush was recently told by a now-retired county detective that Emile Decker was “never fully eliminated as a suspect in this case,” Mehrotra told the judge.

In addition, Mehrotra said, “a federal criminal investigation was done into Emile Decker” by the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. He didn’t go into detail about the depth of the investigation.

“In this case, Loudoun County Sheriff’s investigation was woefully inadequate,” Mehrotra said, since the defense only recently learned about “another investigation done by the federal government of a suspect who has not been ruled out.”

‘This is a circumstantial case’

Prosecutor Shaniqua Clark Nelson — and Emile Decker — had objected to the initial subpoena of his military records, citing privacy concerns and questioning the relevancy.

“This is a circumstantial case. There is no body. It’s been 11 years,” Mehrotra told the judge Thursday. “How much of that information points to someone else as a suspect? How can that be immaterial?”

“Contested cases contain contested theories,” Fleming said. “It seems a defense theory is Emile Decker either caused, or knew that someone else caused, the death of Bethany Decker.”

Fleming said the initial subpoena for all financial documents related to Emile Decker “seems very broad to me,” and seeking all military discipline records “could reveal that he overslept or dropped some chewing gum.”

Instead, Fleming said, a tailored subpoena could seek financial records from the time period surrounding Bethany Anne Decker’s disappearance, as well as “any alleged violence or anger issues” reflected in Emile Decker’s military records.

Roldan appeared by video hookup during the motions hearing Thursday. He was indicted in December 2020 on charges of second-degree murder. In November, he was charged with abducting Decker after he was released from a North Carolina prison for shooting a girlfriend there.

Roldan initially agreed to be interviewed by sheriff’s investigators; however, for the past decade, he declined requests. In March 2019, WTOP reported that new technology pointed toward Roldan using Decker’s Facebook account soon after she disappeared, in an effort to conceal the fact that she was missing.

After Thursday’s hearing, WTOP asked Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj whether Emile Decker would testify for the prosecution.

“We anticipate and plan for all contingencies — that includes potential defenses and potential witnesses,” Biberaj said. “So, at this time we are not excluding anyone as possibly being a witness.”

Roldan’s trial is scheduled to start Feb. 14, 2022, and is expected to last five weeks.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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