A judge provided a stinging rebuke of sex offenders Robert Melia and Heather Lewis Thursday, before handing down sentences that will keep the soon-to-be former Moorestown police officer and his ex-girlfriend/accomplice behind bars for the next 20 to 30 years.
Melia and Lewis were convicted in April on a slew of charges stemming from the sexual assault of multiple teenage victims between 2000 and 2007. The former couple were found guilty of incapacitating and assaulting a number of girls—one damning video showed one of the accusers blindfolded and shackled, with Lewis performing sex acts on the girl and the girl instructed to perform sex acts on Lewis.
Reflecting on their crimes prior to imposing sentencing, Judge Charles Delehey expressed disbelief and disgust at Melia’s and Lewis’ actions and chastised them for taking advantage of their victims, who, because of their age and intellectual challenges, “served as easy prey.”
“The defendants viewed the victims as children too scared to reveal what happened to them. So certain were they that they videotaped for 35 minutes the commission of one of their crimes … a sexual assault, the victim blindfolded, bound and unconscious,” he said. “What sort of person does something like that? And for what purpose? Their conduct cannot be excused; it cannot be minimized.”
Melia scowled and forcefully shook his head during parts of the judge’s speech, while Lewis mostly sat and listened intently.
Prosecutor Kevin Morgan sought sentences of 52 years each for Melia and Lewis, and suggested he could have asked for more. Morgan explained the abhorrent nature of their crimes, as well as their refusal to submit to psychological evaluations, warranted such lengthy sentences.
However, Melia’s attorney Mark Catanzaro said Morgan’s assertion that the prosecution was somehow being magnanimous with its recommendation was “absurd.”
“We all know the prison environment is not conducive to long life,” Catanzaro said. “He’ll be 86 (by the time he’s released) under their magnanimous recommendation. It’s a life sentence, no matter how you slice it.”
Lewis’s attorney Bonnie Geller-Gorman asked the judge to consider her client’s children—particularly her 2-year-old daughter—and suggested Lewis had a bigger bull’s-eye on her because of Melia’s position as a police officer.
Melia, who formerly lived on Cottage Avenue in Moorestown, was suspended without pay from the Moorestown Police Department after his arrest in 2008. Township attorney Thomas Coleman said Melia could not be formally terminated until after the sentencing. Melia will lose all his benefits and pension upon being fired from the department.
Melia's and Lewis’ case drew national attention not only because of his position as a police officer, but because the original indictment included animal cruelty charges against Melia for allegedly performing sex acts on calves. Those charges were previously dismissed.
Both defendants declined an opportunity to speak on their own behalf prior to sentencing Thursday.
Though he had harsh words for the defendants, Judge Delehey elected not to impose the maximum sentences, drawing from prior case law. He sentenced Lewis to up to 25 years in state prison and Melia to up to 30 years, including five for official misconduct because of his position as a police officer.
“He did blatantly fail to protect those whom he was sworn to protect—children,” the judge wrote.
Delehy also suggested the defendants’ refusal to cooperate with sexual offender evaluations could be an impediment to their future release.
“The court notes the defendants have pled their innocence as an excuse for failing to submit to sexual offender evaluations,” Delehey wrote. “Whatever their reasons, their intransigence may delay their return to liberty. Upon achieving parole eligibility, their release may be delayed if they are viewed as potential violent sexual predators who have failed to cooperate in their rehabilitation.”
As part of their sentence, Melia and Lewis are considered Megan’s Law offenders and subject to community supervision for life.
Catanzaro and Geller-Gorman both said their clients plan on appealing.
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