It took three trials for a man who found his murder victim through an LGBT magazine back in 1981 to be found guilty and sentenced for the slaying, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said Friday.
James Andrew Melton, 65, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday — nearly a year after being found guilty of charges including first-degree murder, burglary and robbery.
The convictions, handed down by a jury in May 2017, are for the murder of a 77-year-old Newport Beach man 37 years ago.
Prosecutors said Melton targeted the victim as part of his plot to “meet and rob older, wealthy men interested in romantic encounters.”
In 1981, Melton met the man, a widow named Anthony Desousa, through an advertisement for “male companionship” placed in a magazine called “The Advocate,” prosecutors said in a news release. On its website, a current publication called “The Advocate” — founded in 1967 — describes itself as a “leading source for up-to-date and extensive LGBT news.”
Just the night before his murder, Desousa had dinner and spent the evening at Disneyland with a younger lover named Al Satter, the Daily Pilot of the Los Angeles Times reported. Desousa told him he was planning on meeting someone else at the same theme park the following day, but he didn’t say who, as an 82-year-old Satter testified in court last year.
When the pair returned to Desousa’s Newport Beach home and had cocktails later that evening, it was the last time Satter ever saw him, as he told the jury. He also said he and his older lover had a non-exclusive romance.
The following day, prosecutors said, Desousa agreed to pick up Melton at the Disneyland Hotel and then bring him back to his Newport Beach home. The day was Oct. 12, 1981.
But once inside the home, Melton bound Desousa and then beat and strangled him to death, prosecutors said.
He also robbed Desousa and burglarized his home, stealing personal possessions including jewelry before fleeing the scene in Desousa’s vehicle, prosecutors said. Sometime around a day later, local police received a welfare check and were called to the home.
There, they found Desousa’s dead body.
His body was unclothed, with a leather strap around his genitals, a pillow covering part of his face, his hands bound in front of his body and a cord from a mirror tied around his neck, as a Newport Beach police officer testified in court, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Just days after the murder, on Oct. 16, Los Angeles police found Melton driving Desousa’s vehicle and arrested him, prosecutors said.
And while Melton faced trial and was convicted of all the same charges just a year later, it would take more than three decades for him to receive his final prison sentence.
After he was convicted of burglary, robbery, and first degree murder back in 1982, the judge in the case recommended the death penalty. He was then sentenced to death the following year.
The California Supreme Court affirmed that decision just a few years later, in 1988.
But then the case took a turn.
In 2007, a federal judge said Melton was “mentally incompetent” at the time of his trial, prosecutors said, and granted a petition for writ of habeas corpus — calling for another trial. The court found that at the time, Melton was medicated with an “excessive” amount of psychotropic drugs, prosecutors said, causing him to not have a rational understanding of his trial and therefore not be able to defend himself fairly.
For Melton’s retrial, the DA’s office decided not to seek the death penalty against him, as O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the court in May 2012. A few months later, in August 2012, a judge rejected Melton’s request to dismiss his case on the grounds that he was denied a speedy trial.
Once the case finally went to trial again in May 2014, it resulted in a mistrial.
It was then assigned to another judge and tried again in May 2017, when Melton was found guilty of the charges he was sentenced for on Thursday.