May 29, 2012 Source : http://www.ocregister.com
SANTA ANA – More than three decades after a Newport Beach retiree was found dead in his condominium – naked and with a cord wrapped around his neck – prosecutors are preparing to retry the man found guilty for the killing but who had his murder conviction overturned.
James Melton, 60, was plucked from death row at San Quentin State Prison in 2007 and brought back here to face retrial after a federal judge threw out his 1982 death penalty conviction finding he had been overmedicated by Orange County jail staff and could not understand his trial.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas earlier this month decided not to pursue the death penalty against Melton, who is facing the same charges as before: a special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery.
If convicted, the defendant faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
On June 22, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg will consider a motion to dismiss the case by Melton’s defense attorney, Denise Gragg, a senior assistant public defender, because as she put it “there’s been so much damage done by the passage of time that (Melton’s) due process rights to the trial have been violated.”
Prosecutors say Melton is as culpable as before.
“The facts establish just as they did back in 1982 that he’s guilty of the crime of murder,” Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy said.
Melton, a Los Angeles resident, was convicted by an Orange County jury of killing Anthony Lial DeSousa, 77.
The victim’s nude body was found in the bed of his Newport condominium Oct. 11, 1981. The coroner found DeSousa had been beaten unconscious and strangled.
The prosecution’s main witness, Johnny Boyd of Pasadena, said he and Melton had been lovers in prison and plotted to rob elderly men who ran personal ads in homosexual publications.
Prosecutors said Melton met DeSousa through a personal advertisement the victim placed in a gay newspaper.
Boyd, who was given immunity from prosecution, said he answered the ad in the Advocate and set up a dinner meeting between DeSousa and Melton. Boyd testified Melton admitted the slaying to him and that he had seen Melton wearing DeSousa’s diamond rings.
Melton’s 1982 conviction for DeSousa’s murder followed a history of violent crime, including an attempted rape, robberies, an assault and two rapes – one of which occurred on a synagogue altar in Berkeley, the Orange County Register reported.
Melton was released from custody five months before DeSousa was slain.
After his conviction, Melton filed numerous appeals.
His appellate attorney took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court, which upheld Melton’s conviction in 1988.
Melton then filed a federal appeal, claiming the medical staff at Orange County jail gave him a variety of psychiatric drugs that impaired his ability to understand his trial and contribute to his own defense. Melton was in the jail in Santa Ana for 13 months during the trial.
The late U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi overturned his conviction in 2007, saying in a ruling that Melton was given “high doses of powerful mind-altering drugs,” despite the fact he never exhibited symptoms of psychosis or received psychiatric treatment.
The antipsychotic and antidepressant medication “suppressed Melton’s mental functioning, impaired his memory and cognition and made him indifferent to his surroundings,” Takasugi wrote.
“As a result, he was docile and compliant at trial, but also frequently unable to rationally consult with counsel about his defense,” the judge said.
Death penalty decision
Prosecutors were disappointed in the federal court’s ruling but are ready to prove their case again.
“While some of the methods of proving and establishing the circumstances might change, the goal remains the same: to hold the defendant responsible for the brutal murder of Mr. DeSousa,” McGreevy said.
The time lapsed since the crime is part of the reason why the district attorney has decided not to seek the death penalty at retrial, McGreevy said.
“It will definitely be a different case than that tried in 1982,” he said, adding the passage of 30 years with the ultimate penalty contributed to the decision.
Melton’s attorney Gragg is appreciative of Rackauckas’ move to drop death penalty.
“I think the D.A.’s Office has done a wonderful job in evaluating whether this should be a death penalty case. I am grateful for the time they took as well as the decision.”