Laugh or gag all you want, but the attorney for a Burlington County cop accused of molesting underage girls and young cows said a judge made the right call by dropping animal-cruelty charges.
Superior Court Judge James J. Morley said repeatedly Wednesday that he didn't condone anyone sticking his penis into a cow's mouth, but concluded that a grand jury didn't have enough evidence to determine whether Moorestown Patrolman Robert Melia Jr. "tormented" or even "puzzled" the cows when he allegedly committed the deed in 2006.
Mark Catanzaro, Melia's attorney, said Morley simply stuck to the definitions of animal cruelty in the statute.
"Everybody can laugh and think this is funny, but he never should have been charged in the first place," he said. "A lot of judges will reach conclusions because it's the ruling they want to make. Morley tries to get it right and calls it like he sees it."
Melia, who still faces sexual assault charges for allegedly molesting three underage girls, was charged with fourth-degree animal cruelty after investigators allegedly found his livestock videos on a computer at his Moorestown home last year.
Catanzaro later filed a motion to have those charges dismissed, which Morley granted Wednesday, claiming it was impossible to know how the cows felt about having Melia's penis in their mouth.
"If the Legislature wants to make bestiality a crime, which it was once, so be it. It's not the prosecutor's office's job to outlaw what the Legislature hasn't," he said. "In order for it to be a crime, you have to establish if you tormented the animal, we're talking beating or disfiguring."
New Jersey legislators introduced a bestiality bill in 2005, an SPCA spokesman said, after a Perth Amboy, Middlesex County, man was found guilty of animal cruelty for repeatedly attacking and sexually assaulting a female Rottweiler.
That bill was never heard before the Senate, but New Jersey SPCA spokesman Matt Stanton said his office was planning to beef up the animal-cruelty charges to include sexual acts.
"New Jersey is way behind the curve on this kind of stuff," he said.
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on Morley's ruling. Morley, a Rutgers-Camden Law School grad who also lives in Moorestown, did not return a phone call for comment.
Cows were mooing yesterday at the Southampton, Burlington County, farm where the alleged incidents occurred, but a man who answered the door declined to comment. One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he often saw Melia's car parked at the farm, usually on Sundays.
Melia's former girlfriend, Heather Lewis, is also charged with assaulting the three underage girls and a boy.
Now that the cow distraction is behind Melia, at least in court, Catanzaro said his client can focus on the sexual-assault charges that could land him decades in jail if convicted. "He's pretty numb right now," Catanzaro said. "He's really been beaten over the head by all this."