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Third trial begins for man once sentenced to death in 1981 Newport slaying

Third trial begins for man once sentenced to death in 1981 Newport slaying
James Andrew Melton, shown in an undated booking photo, is accused of killing a Newport Beach man in 1981. (File photo)

It was about sunset on Oct. 13, 1981, when Officer Jeff Cantrell made a shocking discovery at 455 Bolero Way in Newport Beach.

Cantrell, with just a year under his belt on the Newport Beach police force, scaled the garage attached to the condominium to reach an open window on the condo's second story. He pulled back the shades and stuck his flashlight inside to illuminate the dark room.

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"At that point I saw a body," he testified Monday in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.

A pillow partially covered the face of an unclothed man, later identified as 77-year-old Anthony DeSousa. The man's hands were bound in front of his body and a cord from a lighted mirror was wrapped tightly around his neck, Cantrell testified.

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A photograph of the crime scene shows DeSousa's body amid a floral comforter strewn on his bed. A leather strap was wrapped around his genitals.

Monday's testimony kicked off the second retrial for James Andrew Melton, 65, who is facing charges of murder, residential burglary and robbery on allegations that he seduced and strangled DeSousa in a plot to steal from him.

In 1982, Melton, of Los Angeles, was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death. But in 2007, a federal judge threw out his conviction after ruling that Melton was too heavily medicated on psychiatric drugs during his trial to understand the proceedings or participate in his defense. 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, Orange County prosecutors took the death penalty off the table and retried Melton in 2014. But a jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision.

Now prosecutors are trying the case again.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephen McGreevy told jurors during his opening statement Monday that Melton and Johnny Boyd, who became romantically involved while serving prison sentences in San Luis Obispo in 1980, concocted a plan to make money by finding older gay men through ads in newspapers.

The plan was to contact the men, go to their homes and take items of value "by any means necessary," McGreevy said.

That's what happened to DeSousa, McGreevy alleged.

"At the end of this case … all the evidence is going to point to one person," he said. "I'm going to ask you to hold the defendant responsible."

McGreevy said Boyd, who was released from prison before Melton, met DeSousa through a personal ad in a newspaper. DeSousa 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. Melton decided to meet DeSousa alone on Oct. 10, 1981, at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, according to prosecutors.

That day, McGreevy alleges, Melton strangled DeSousa and made off with his car and other valuables.

When Melton returned to Los Angeles that evening, he told his girlfriend he "wanted to party" and took her and some friends to dinner and a movie, which his girlfriend described as a "rare event," McGreevy said.

That night, Melton had more money than he had when he left that morning and was driving DeSousa's car, prosecutors said.

Boyd later told authorities that when Melton visited him in jail the following day, Boyd recognized some of the jewelry Melton was wearing as items he had seen DeSousa wearing.

At first, McGreevy said, Melton was hesitant to tell Boyd what had happened the previous evening.

But eventually, "he takes his hands and he makes a choking gesture," McGreevy told the jury.

Boyd, who died in 1992 of complications of AIDS, received immunity from prosecution for testifying against Melton in the original trial.

Deputy Public Defender Denise Gragg, who is representing Melton, suggested to the jury Monday that Boyd had credibility problems.

"Johnny Boyd had a lifetime of con-man activity," she said. "He had a history of lying."

Gragg said Boyd was deeply in love with Melton and became infuriated when he didn't want to be with him after they were released from prison.

Gragg also pointed to a lack of Melton's DNA at the crime scene.

DeSousa had an active sex life, with men visiting his home day and night, according to Gragg. A significant amount of DNA was found at the scene, but none matched Melton, she said, suggesting someone else committed the crime.

She asked jurors to keep an open mind during the trial.

"What seems apparent isn't always as clear as some would like it to be," she said.

Testimony in the case will continue Tuesday.

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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