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Appellate justices overturn murder verdict for man accused in 1981 Newport Beach slaying

James Andrew Melton
An appellate panel Monday overturned a murder verdict against James Andrew Melton, who had been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole in the slaying of a Newport Beach man in 1981.
(Courtesy of Orange County district attorney’s office )

An appellate panel Monday overturned a murder verdict in the 1981 robbery, beating and strangulation death of a Newport Beach retiree in his condominium.

James Andrew Melton, 67, was sentenced in April 2018 to life in prison without possibility of parole in the October 1981 killing of Anthony DeSousa, 77.

Melton was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 1982, but a federal judge tossed the verdict in 2007, ruling the defendant was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial in 1982 due to “improperly administered psychiatric medications.”

A retrial in May 2014 ended with jurors deadlocked 10-2 for guilt.

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Before another retrial in 2017, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett allowed prosecutors to include testimony that Johnny Boyd, Melton’s former lover, gave during a preliminary hearing in 1982.

In its ruling Monday, a three-justice panel of the California 4th District Court of Appeal found that Prickett erred in including Boyd’s testimony, saying it was too prejudicial. Boyd died in 1992.

“The OCDA will be reviewing the opinion and discussing it with the [state attorney general’s] office since they handled the appeal,” Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office, wrote in an email Monday. “After such discussions ... the OCDA will make any needed decision regarding the case.”

At issue is whether Melton was mentally incompetent during his preliminary hearing in March 1982. The justices ruled there was not enough evidence to determine that and that Prickett erred in 2017 in finding him mentally competent during the proceeding, which cleared the way for the inclusion of Boyd’s testimony.

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The defendant’s attorneys argued “it was not feasible for the trial court to conduct a retrospective competency hearing 35 years after the preliminary hearing. We agree,” the justices’ ruling states.

Prosecutors granted immunity to Boyd at the preliminary hearing and 1982 trial, and jurors in the most recent trial heard his account of Melton’s apparent admission to the killing.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy told jurors that DeSousa “began living an openly gay lifestyle” after his longtime wife died in 1974 and he met Boyd when he responded to the victim’s classified ad in a gay magazine.

According to the prosecutor, Boyd and Melton had cooked up a scheme while serving prison sentences in San Luis Obispo to contact older gay men and steal from them.

The two planned to rob DeSousa, the prosecutor said, but Boyd was arrested on a warrant before they could reconnect, so Melton went alone to meet with DeSousa.

Boyd said Melton visited him in jail days after the slaying and that Melton was wearing DeSousa’s rings and told him he got the jewelry from DeSousa’s home.

“Melton said that he met DeSousa at the Disneyland Hotel, then they went to DeSousa’s house,” according to the justices’ ruling. “Boyd asked Melton what happened, but Melton was reluctant to talk about it. When Boyd again asked what happened to DeSousa, Melton ‘said that [DeSousa] would never tell anybody.’ Melton made a gesture with his hands indicating that DeSousa had been choked or [strangled].”

DeSousa was beaten severely, McGreevy said. It wasn’t until a few days later that a Newport Beach police officer tasked with conducting a welfare check got a look inside DeSousa’s home and saw that he was dead, McGreevy said.

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Daily Pilot staff contributed to this report.

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Updates:
4:36 PM, Oct. 07, 2019: This article was originally published at 3:30 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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