An Orange County Superior Court jury began deliberating Thursday in the third trial for a man whose conviction in the 1981 killing of a Newport Beach retiree was overturned by a federal judge.
James Andrew Melton, 65, of Los Angeles was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 after being accused of seducing 77-year-old Anthony DeSousa and then strangling him in his Newport Beach condominium in a plot to steal from him.
However, a federal judge overturned the conviction in 2007 after determining that jail staff overmedicated Melton to the point that he was unable to participate in his defense or understand his trial.
According to court filings, Melton had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from violence and sexual abuse as a child and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse that began when he was a boy.
After a new trial was ordered, the Orange County district attorney’s office decided not to seek the death penalty.
In the 2014 retrial, a jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Melton of murder. Jurors in that trial did not hear testimony from Melton’s former lover Johnny Boyd, to whom prosecutors claimed Melton confessed shortly after DeSousa’s death.
In his third trial, which began May 1 in Orange County Superior Court, the prosecution alleges that Melton and Boyd, while serving prison sentences in San Luis Obispo in 1980, concocted a plan to make money by robbing older gay men whom they would find through newspaper ads.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephen McGreevy said Boyd, who was released from prison before Melton, met DeSousa through a personal ad.
DeSousa, who had come out as gay after his wife died, told Boyd that he liked black men, and Boyd offered to set him up with a man he said was his cousin. Authorities say that man was Melton.
Boyd was arrested in an unrelated case a few days before the three men were scheduled to rendezvous. According to the prosecution, Melton decided to meet DeSousa alone on Oct. 10, 1981, at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
That day, McGreevy alleges, Melton strangled DeSousa and made off with his car and other valuables.
Three days later, DeSousa’s body was found in his bedroom. He had been badly beaten and strangled with the wire of an electric mirror, authorities said.
Melton’s defense attorney, Denise Gragg, contended the prosecution presented an overly simplistic view of the case.
Gragg said there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence at DeSousa’s home linking Melton to the crime. She said Boyd, a key witness for the prosecution who was given immunity to testify in Melton’s first trial, had credibility issues.
Boyd died of complications of AIDS in 1992, so in the current trial, the jury was read transcripts of his original testimony.
Gragg’s statements to the jury have portrayed Boyd as deeply in love with Melton and that he became infuriated when Melton didn’t want to be with him when they were released from prison.
The defense alleges that Boyd’s anger gave him a motive to set up Melton to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit.
McGreevy rejected that idea, noting that Melton and Boyd went out together in Los Angeles a week before DeSousa was killed. There’s no evidence the two were on bad terms, he said.
McGreevy encouraged jurors Thursday to think about the fear DeSousa likely felt during his final moments.
“Mr. DeSousa has waited a long time for justice in this case,” McGreevy said.