Pair guilty of child-sex assaults in Burlington County

After deliberating for two days, a Superior Court jury in Mount Holly found a Moorestown police officer and his former girlfriend guilty Friday of sexually assaulting juveniles over eight years.

Robert Melia Jr., 42, who was suspended from his patrol job after his arrest in April 2008, was found guilty on 22 of the 47 counts listed in the indictment, including official misconduct for committing a crime while employed as a police officer. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting two girls.

Heather Lewis, 36, of Pemberton, was found guilty on 26 counts involving three girls and a boy. The conviction included multiple counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and invasion of privacy.

The jury hung on 19 counts against each of them, all involving the same victim, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. The office will review the case to determine whether to retry the defendants on those charges.

Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 13. Melia and Lewis both face more than 50 years in prison, according to the prosecution.

Melia will appeal, his attorney Mark Catanzaro said Friday.

"There was a litany of problems in the way the evidence was presented," Catanzaro said. He declined to elaborate.

Lewis' public defender, Bonnie Geller-Gorman, could not be reached Friday evening for comment.

The initial indictment - which included counts of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, invasion of privacy, and endangering the welfare of a child - accused Melia and Lewis of repeatedly assaulting three girls, one of whom was a babysitter for Lewis' son, and videotaping some of the attacks.

The girls, two of whom were sisters, gave statements to police in April 2008 and said the incidents began in 2000. They said then that they were assaulted separately by Melia and Lewis. They told police the couple used vibrators on them and forced them to engage in sex acts with the adults.

A graphic, 35-minute video taken in August 2005 was shown to the jury. It had been extracted from Melia's computer, authorities said.

The prosecution had argued that the girl on the tape, who along with the others was between age 12 and 17, was incapacitated during the encounter.

Lewis testified that the girl in the video was 18 and had consented to the sex acts. Lewis also testified that she enjoyed bondage and that she was giving commands to the girl, and the girl responded. At one point, when the girl's body writhed, Lewis said, it was not out of pain but pleasure.

Lewis also was charged with sexually assaulting a boy, 14.

Police were notified after one of the girls told her stepfather.

The jury of eight men and four women began deliberating after closing statements Wednesday in the nearly three-week-old trial. Attorneys for Melia and Lewis argued that the accusers had lied and that prosecutors were overzealous, in part because of the case's notoriety and the alleged involvement of a Moorestown officer.

Bail was revoked for both.

 


Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas.