Animal-cruelty charge dropped in Burlco case

Posted: September 24, 2009

Animal-cruelty charges were dropped yesterday against a former Moorestown police officer accused of bestiality.

Robert Melia Jr., 39, still faces charges of sexually assaulting three girls between 2000 and 2008. Prosecutors say he molested the children with former girlfriend Heather Lewis, 33, of Pemberton Township.

State Superior Court Judge James J. Morley approved Melia's motion yesterday to strike the animal-cruelty charges from the indictment.

Authorities claimed to have videos of Melia engaging in sex acts with cows. They filed the charges weeks after arresting Melia on April 12, 2008, in the sexual-assault case. That day, police also searched his home and seized a computer that they said contained pornographic material.

Prosecutors alleged Melia's behavior amounted to animal cruelty, a fourth-degree offense defined as anything from tormenting to beating or even poisoning a creature.

The judge said the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office had not presented enough information to the grand jury to prove that Melia's alleged actions tormented the calves. The jurors heard a description of the alleged crimes from a detective.

"I'm not saying it's OK," Morley said. "This is a legal question for me. It's not a question of morals, and it's not a question of hygiene. It's not a question of how people should conduct themselves."

Police said Melia had molested the cows in Southampton in 2006.

Melia's attorney, Mark Catanzaro, said in court yesterday that it "takes a great leap of faith" to say Melia tormented the animals.

Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Morgan said that the tapes could have been played for the grand jury but that he didn't think it was necessary.

Morgan said Melia's alleged crimes against five cows were "an act against nature." He noted that one of the cows butted its head into Melia's stomach.

Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.

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