|Who, age||What||Where||When||Last Known Address|
|Robert Melia, Jr., 36(1)||Police officer charged with having sex with cows||
|June-December, 2006||Moorestown, NJ|
|Robert Melia, Jr., 38(2)||Police officer charged with sexually assaulting children||
June 2000 - January 2008
April 12, 2008
|Heather Lewis, 32(2)||girlfriend of police officer charged with sexually assaulting children||
June 2000 - January 2008
April 12, 2008
|Pemberton Township, NJ|
|Type of Crime||Other Crimes||#/Type of animal(s) involved||Case Status||Next Court Date /Courthouse|
|sexually assaulting children||(1) 5 calves||
A Moorestown police officer and his former girlfriend have been charged with sexually assaulting children, authorities said.
Robert Melia Jr., 38, of Cottage Avenue in Moorestown and Heather Lewis, 32, of Stockton's Bridge Road in Pemberton Township were each charged with three counts of 1st degree aggravated sexual assault and one count of 2nd degree sexual assault, said Jack Smith, spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
(Photo courtesy of WPIX) The charges were filed following an investigation into alleged assaults on three juvenile girls, Smith said. Their ages were not released.
He said the assaults by both suspects occurred in Melia's home on multiple occasions in 2003, 2004 and 2007. Further details were not released in order to protect the anonymity of the victims, Smith said.
Smith said the investigation was launched after one of the victims told her stepfather that she had been sexually assaulted by the two suspects on multiple occasions between August 2007 and January 2008. The stepfather then contacted authorities, Smith said. The other victims were located after that initial report, he said.
Police arrested Melia at Moorestown police headquarters, Smith said. Lewis surrendered at the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
Melia has been a resident of Moorestown since 1981 and a Moorestown police officer since 2000 as a member of the patrol division, according to his attorney.
Melia and Lewis were being held in Burlington County correctional facilities on bails of $500,000 and $300,000 respectively.
During the suspects' first appearance in Superior Court , Melia's attorney asked Superior Court Judge John A. Almeida to reduce Melia's bail. He argued the amount was excessive and told the judge that Melia lives at home with his ailing mother.
Almeida denied the request and ordered both suspects not to have any contact with the victims in the event they post bail.
During the hearing, Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Morgan described the alleged assaults as "deplorable acts with minors." Following the hearing, he said both suspects "certainly seemed to play an equal part" in the alleged abuse of the children.
He said Melia and Lewis dated for a number of years, but their relationship ended in 2006. He would not comment on any connection between the two suspects and the alleged victims.
Morgan said investigators are looking at the evidence gathered through a search of Melia's home. He said items of a pornographic nature were found there but he declined to specify their relevance to the case. "We want to make sure there are not more victims," Morgan said.
Update 4/23/08: A Moorestown police officer who was charged earlier this month with sexually assaulting three girls faces new allegations that he performed lewd acts on animals.
Melia Jr. was charged with four counts of cruelty to animals.
Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Morgan said Melia committed the acts on cows in Southampton at various times from June to December 2006.
Since his arrest, Melia has been held in Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly on $500,000 bail. Judge John Almeida set his bail at $10,000 on the animal cruelty charges.
Lewis turned herself in at the Prosecutor's Office on April 12. She was being held yesterday in a county correctional facility on $300,000 bail. She was not charged in the animal cruelty case.
Melia has been suspended from the police force.
Update 4/29/08: Lewis, has been charged with two additional counts of sexual assault involving a fourth juvenile. Authorities have not disclosed the child's gender or age.
Lewis also was charged with an additional count of sexual assault against one of the girls authorities allege she assaulted with her former boyfriend.
Lewis appeared before Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith Jr. via closed-circuit television from the county's Minimum Security Facility in Pemberton where she has been held on $300,000 bail since April 12 on the original charges.
Smith increased her bail to $400,000 after considering the new allegations. He also ordered her to have no contact with the four minors.
In court, the woman said she understood the charges against her and told Smith that her own child was in the custody of her parents. She said was hoping to get a public defender to represent her.
Morgan said the new victim was identified through interviews after Lewis' initial arrest.
Melia was not charged with the new allegations. Melia remains in Burlington County Jail on $510,000 bail.
Update 6/6/08: A Superior Court Judge Cornelius Sullivan reduced the bail for Melia from $510,000 to $410,000.
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office asked that the bail remain at $510,000, arguing that Melia is a flight risk due to the seriousness of the charges against him.
Melia was also charged with cruelty to animals in April. Prosecutors said he engaged in sex acts with cows in Southampton in 2006.
Update 10/3/08: A county grand jury returned a 45-count indictment against Melia and Lewis charging them with sexually assaulting minors over the past eight years.
Melia was also indicted on charges of official misconduct and animal cruelty.
If convicted of all charges, they face life in prison, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi.
Both are charged with 12 counts of aggravated sexual assault, four counts of aggravated criminal sexual contact, eight counts of criminal sexual contact, six counts of endangering the welfare of a child, 14 counts of sexual assault and one count of invasion of privacy.
Lewis was indicted separately on charges involving a fourth juvenile. Authorities have said those assaults took place with a male juvenile in Pemberton Township between August and September of last year.
She is charged with criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child and three counts of sexual assaults. Lewis is being held on $300,000 bail at the county's Minimum Security Facility in Pemberton Township.
Melia posted $410,000 bail and was released from Burlington County Jail in June. Through his private attorney, he has maintained his innocence.
On April, 12, Melia was arrested after authorities executed a search warrant at Melia's residence. Detectives seized a quantity of pornographic material and Melia's computer.
The Prosecutor's Office also has filed a civil complaint in an effort to seize Melia's home, since authorities said he used it in the commission of a crime.
According to the complaint, a U.S. Secret Service forensic analysis uncovered about 48,000 video files and 37,000 images stored on the computer. While the review of those files and images is ongoing, authorities said "most, if not all, have been pornographic in nature." Two of the recordings made by Melia and Lewis show Melia engaging in sex with animals, according to the complaint.
Update 11/11/08: Lewis has pleaded innocent to charges she sexually assaulted three young girls with her former boyfriend and assaulted another child last year in Pemberton Township.
Melia is due in court next week for his arraignment. He's also expected to plead innocent.Lewis remains in custody at the county's Minimum Security Facility in Pemberton on $300,000 bail.
Lewis is due back in court Jan. 5.
Update 11/18/08: Melia pleaded innocent to sexually assaulting three girls on multiple occasions over the past eight years.
Melia also pleaded innocent to charges of official misconduct and animal cruelty. He appeared in court with his attorney, but said nothing.
Lewis and Melia are due back in Superior Court before Judge Thomas S. Smith, Jr. in January. If convicted of all charges, both face life in prison.
Update 1/30/09: A Superior Court judge Thursday refused to further reduce bail for Lewis. Lewis remains at the county's Minimum Security Facility. Her attorney asked that the bail, originally set at $400,000, be reduced to $175,000. Prosecutors opposed any reduction. The public defender said she likely could make the lower bail if her family sold their house and made other financial arrangements.
Update 9/24/09: A former New Jersey police officer accused of having a moonlight tryst with a group of cows will not be facing animal cruelty charges after all, after a grand jury couldn't determine whether the cattle consented to the apparent one night stand.
According to prosecutors, Melia dropped his trousers and let the animals taste his genitals, all while video taping the obscene act on a Southampton farm in 2006. It remained unclear whether the calves were "tormented" or "puzzled."
Superior Court Judge ruled that prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to jurors that proved that Melia's alleged actions in fact tormented the cows. "I'm not saying it's okay," Judge Morley said in court after dismissing the charges. "This is a legal question for me. It's not a question of morals."
Update 9/25/09: Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Kevin Morgan said Melia, was on videotape performing a sex act with five calves at various times.
Judge James J. Morley dismissed the charges, saying there was no evidence presented to the grand jury that the animals were tormented by Melia's alleged behavior. Bestiality is no longer a crime in New Jersey.
Melia's attorney, Mark Catanzaro, argued in court that the animals were not abused and that the state failed to produce any evidence to the contrary for the grand jury. "Where is a single fact to suggest any cruelty?" he said. "You can't rely on rank speculation."
Catanzaro also argued that prosecutors did not define "torment" for the grand jury, which did not see the tape of the alleged acts but was told what was on it.
Morgan said "torment" can mean to cause "vexation," or for one to be puzzled or baffled. He also said that the calves' reaction to Melia's alleged conduct could prove the animals' distress and that it would be for a trial jury to decide.
"Clearly, there's torment," Morgan said. "The calves repeatedly head-butted Melia in the stomach expecting to milk."
While Morley called the allegations "disgusting" and said that "most people would find it repulsive," he noted that no testimony before the grand jury showed the animals were "troubled, distressed, aggravated, irritated or annoyed."
"I would think the drafters (of the law) meant more than a petty annoyance," the judge said. "This is a legal question, not a question of morals, hygiene, or how people should conduct themselves."
He said the state could present the charges to a grand jury in the future if it has new evidence.
Morley also denied Melia's application to sever several of the counts that pertain to his co-defendant, Lewis, from the case when it goes to trial. Catanzaro argued that they unduly prejudiced Melia. Morley said a carefully crafted instruction to the jury would be sufficient to minimize any "minimal prejudice" that may exist.
Lewis and Melia are free on bail.
Update 12/8/09: Melia and Lewis want evidence found in the search of his home last year thrown out.
Attorneys for Melia and Lewis argued that authorities exceeded the scope of an April 2008 warrant when they seized computers and other items found in Melia's Cottage Avenue home. They also argued that the warrant was too broad.
Superior Court Judge John Almeida heard arguments and said he would issue a decision on whether the evidence should be suppressed after further review. He said he understood the importance of his decision and that the victims had alleged "pretty heinous acts of a sexual nature."
Melia's attorney, Mark Catanzaro, argued that police had no legal authority to seize his client's computers. He said the children never indicated a computer was used in any of the crimes they alleged occurred at the house. Furthermore, he said files that were being deleted when authorities arrived at the house did not justify their seizing the computers.
"They speculate it might have been something," Catanzaro said. "They know there are computers, but they never ask to take them. They simply took them." Catanzaro said police should have tried to get a supplemental warrant for the computers or asked to seize them in the first warrant. "There's nothing there (in the warrant) to let them take the computers," he said.
In a civil complaint to seize Melia's home because it was used in the commission of the alleged crimes, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said a U.S. Secret Service forensic analysis uncovered about 48,000 video files and 37,000 images stored on a computer taken in the search. While the review of those files and images was ongoing at the time of the filing, of those that had been reviewed, "most, if not all, have been pornographic in nature," according to the complaint.
Catanzaro said the warrant was too broad because possessing commercially available pornography is not a crime and because the girls never alleged that they were shown anything on a computer.
Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Morgan said the seized computers were within the scope of the warrant since it allowed authorities to take any items of "evidentiary value" during "thorough and diligent search."
Morgan said the computers were included because police found evidence that files of videos and photographs could be stored there. He said authorities were looking for evidence to support the girls' distinct description of parts of Melia's body and other evidence to corroborate the victims' allegations. "We don't know what's on a tape until we look at it," he said. "We have to take what is there. ... It's all tied to the sexual misadventure that was going on (there)."
Morgan said once authorities saw that the computers included software that could transfer images and videos, they knew they were on "firm footing" to seize them under the warrant.
Update 2/10/10: Evidence found in the search of Melia and Lewis will remain in the case, a Superior Court judge ruled.
Melia and Lewis had sought to suppress evidence that includes computer files, DVDs and videotapes.
Superior Court Judge John A. Almeida, in a Jan. 29 decision, found the search and seizure of the computer equipment were supported by probable cause and permissible, even if authorities did not specifically ask to take the computers in the warrant.
In his written opinion, Almeida said the detectives reasonably believed that the seized computer equipment contained evidence of a crime and that the evidence could reasonably have been destroyed before another search warrant was obtained.
When authorities arrived to search Melia's home, they found the computer on and the words "showing items being deleted" on the screen.
"The officers acted properly in safeguarding the computer equipment, which the police reasonably concluded the defendant intended to destroy files on, without searching it upon its seizure," Almeida wrote, noting the Prosecutor's Office got a second warrant to search the computer after taking it.
|Burlington County Times||WPIX|