|Robert Melia Jr.|
By Danielle Camilli
MOUNT HOLLY - Suspended Moorestown Police Officer Robert Melia Jr. and his former girlfriend, Heather Lewis, could learn their fates within a week.
Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey said the jury will likely begin its deliberations Wednesday in considering the multi-count indictment, which includes charges of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, invasion of privacy, and endangering the welfare of a child.
Melia, 42, of Moorestown, was also charged with official misconduct because the allegations spanned the time he served as a patrolman, from 2000 to 2008.
He was suspended after he and Lewis, 36, of Pemberton Township, a former nursing assistant, were arrested in 2008.
Charges that Melia performed lewd acts with cows, which led to international interest in the case, was dismissed before the trial.
The state rested Friday after presenting nearly a dozen witnesses over the last two weeks, including the four victims, who the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office alleged were molested as pre-teens and teenagers.
The witnesses testified that they slept over at the house and at various times were assaulted by one or both of the defendants. Some victims claimed the couple assaulted them with various sexual devices.
The only male witness accused Lewis of coming to his baby-sitting job with one of the other accusers and sexually assaulting him. He and the girl testified that Lewis ordered the girl to perform a sex act on the boy.
The oldest witness, now 24, was the subject of two graphic videos, which were found on an external hard drive seized from Melia’s home and shown to the jury. The female, who appeared incapacitated and was bound and blindfolded on one of the recordings, testified that she had no recollection of the incident and never consented to having sex with either Melia or Lewis.
If convicted, Melia and Lewis, who are free on bail, could face decades in prison.
On Friday, attorneys for the couple advanced their defenses that the female in the video was 18 or 19 years old and thus was a willing participant in what one lawyer described as a homemade “bondage” sex tape. The woman testified that she looked about 16 in the videos; she earlier told police that she looked as young as 12.
Lewis’ court-appointed attorney, Bonnie Geller-Gorman, pointed to a statement the woman gave to a detective at the start of the investigation in 2008, when she was 20, in which she repeatedly denied that Melia and Lewis abused her, but readily admitted that she was raped as a small child.
The attorney read portions of the interview in which Detective Sgt. Dave Kohler tries to reassure the woman that she can disclose anything that happened to her and that he will help her.
In the statement and at trial, the witness eventually claimed she was molested by the defendants on multiple occasions, starting when she was about 14.
“There’s an awful lot of tooth-pulling there,” Geller-Gorman said as she noted other inconsistencies in the woman’s statements.
She also asked Kohler if the witness’ behavior on the 34-minute video suggested she was a consenting participant, pointing to two instances in which she appears to shrug in response to Lewis.
Throughout much of the video, the teenager remains largely unresponsive, despite being touched with objects.
Melia’s attorney, Mark Catanzaro, homed in on why the Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately arrest and charge the accuser’s stepfather when authorities suspected he was sexually abusing the girl, but instead waited until they had confirmed the baby she bore was his through DNA testing.
Catanzaro contended that the girl, then 13, was trying to protect the secret and illegal relationship she was having with her stepfather when she accused Melia and Lewis. He said that Lewis found out, and that the girl and stepfather feared she would go to police, so they made up the molestation stories about the former couple.
After the state rested, the defense attorneys asked that most of the charges against Melia and Lewis be dismissed, claiming the prosecution had failed to prove its case.
Catanzaro said the state failed to produce any evidence regarding Melia’s participation on several counts, including the charges involving the video.
He said that no evidence was presented proving the subject of the video was incapacitated with or by anything, and that no evidence showed he was there or “aided or abetted” the alleged assault.
Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Morgan told jurors the man recording the acts was Melia, evidenced by the fact that the video was recorded in his bed in his bedroom and that the recording was found on his computer equipment.
Lewis never addresses the man recording the video by name, but she tells him he “did a good job” when he removes the covers and unveils the bound teenager.
Kohler also testified that the items in the video were found in the defendant’s home when authorities searched it in 2008.
The judge said he would rule Monday on the defense’s motions. At that time, the defendants must decide whether they will testify.
The jury is due back in court Tuesday morning and could begin deliberating by early Wednesday, officials said.