A man was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for robbing, beating and strangling a Newport Beach retiree in his condominium 36 years ago.
James Andrew Melton, 66, was convicted in a second retrial last May of first-degree murder and burglary in the October 1981 slaying of 77-year-old Anthony DeSousa,, with jurors finding true a special circumstance allegation that the killing was committed during a burglary and robbery.
Sentencing was put off for nearly a year as Melton’s attorney investigated an allegation of juror misconduct involving an alternate panelist who was reportedly overheard discussing details of the case in public outside of deliberations.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett denied a motion for new trial. He also declined a request to strike the special circumstances allegation so Melton could get an immediate shot at parole.
Defense attorney Denise Gragg argued that Melton deserved a parole hearing based on the years he has already served in the case, his age and that he was so heavily drugged during the first of his three trials in 1982, which led a federal judge to overturn that verdict in January 2007. A retrial in May 2014 ended with jurors deadlocked 10-2 for guilt.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy cited Melton’s prior criminal history of an attempted murder, two rapes and a robbery in his argument against striking the special circumstances.
A major difference in the defendant’s third trial was testimony from a former cellmate, Johnny Boyd, who died of AIDS in 1992, the prosecutor said.
Boyd had been granted immunity, and his account of Melton’s apparent admittance to the killing was read back to jurors.
The prosecutor told the jury that after DeSousa’s longtime wife died in 1974, he “began living an openly gay lifestyle.”
McGreevy said one witness who is still alive — Al Satter — confirmed that he was friends with DeSousa for about seven years and that the two were sometimes intimate and often spent weekends together.
Satter identified some of the victim’s stolen belongings and told authorities how DeSousa was a “furious note taker” who wrote down appointments on a calendar for dates he made with other men, McGreevy said.
DeSousa placed a classified ad in a gay magazine, which is how he met Boyd, according to McGreevy. Boyd and Melton met as cellmates in a San Luis Obispo prison in 1980, where “they became lovers” and concocted a scheme to “contact gay men, especially older men, go to their homes and look for valuables” and “take whatever they want and by any means necessary,” the prosecutor said.
Boyd got out of prison before Melton and met with DeSousa, McGreevy said. The plan for the two of them to rob DeSousa went awry when Boyd got picked up on an arrest warrant and landed in jail in Los Angeles County, the prosecutor said.
Boyd had told DeSousa he wanted to introduce him to his “cousin” Melton, who went alone to meet with the victim in his home on Bolero Way on Oct. 10, 1981, McGreevy said.
Melton, who had moved in with girlfriend Linda Diane Harris in Los Angeles after his release from prison in August 1981, told Harris, who has also since died, that he was going to a meeting at a Disneyland hotel and then head over to Costa Mesa before returning home, McGreevy said.
DeSousa was beaten so severely that his attacker knocked out a tooth, McGreevy said. It wasn’t until a few days later that a Newport Beach police officer tasked with conducting a welfare check of DeSousa managed to get a look into the victim’s home and saw that he was dead, McGreevy said.
When Melton arrived back home, he was driving DeSousa’s car. And although he was broke before, he now had enough cash to treat Harris and other friends to dinner and a movie, McGreevy said.
Melton met with Boyd and shared some of the details of his encounter with DeSousa, McGreevy said. When Boyd asked what happened, Melton “takes his hands and makes a choking gesture,” the prosecutor said.
Boyd told his parole officer, who called Newport Beach police, McGreevy said. They found more of the victim’s belongings in the apartment he shared with Harris, he said.
Gragg told the jury “the key witness for the prosecution is Johnny Boyd … who led a lifetime of con man activity,” and argued that rudimentary DNA testing of evidence collected at the scene does not show Melton was in the victim’s home.
Boyd was a jilted lover, who was “infuriated” that Melton moved in with a girlfriend when they both got out of prison, Gragg said, telling the jury the evidence “is going to show you someone other than Mr. Melton committed the crime.”