In closing arguments Tuesday, attorneys for a Moorestown police officer and his ex-girlfriend who are accused of sexually assaulting three girls, in one instance videotaping their actions, tried to discredit the accusers as liars browbeaten by authorities or as parties to a cover-up of a family scandal.
Robert Melia Jr., 42, is accused of videotaping a blindfolded and bound girl being repeatedly violated with objects. His ex-girlfriend, Heather Lewis, who authorities say is the adult woman on the tape, is accused of forcing the minor to be her sexual partner. The couple was arrested in 2008, and Melia was suspended from his patrol job.
Lewis, 36, of Pemberton, also faces charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy and forcing him to have sex with one of the girls.
The pair faces more than 40 counts each of aggravated sexual assault, sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a minor, invasion of privacy, and other related charges. The nearly three-week trial is expected to go to the jury by the end of the week.
"All four of these alleged victims lied to you," Lewis' public defender, Bonnie Geller-Gorman, told the jury. "The most honest, forthright person on that stand was Heather Lewis."
The accusers, Geller-Gorman said, "were together in a web of deceit. None of them thought this would go this far."
She said the stepfather of one of the girls concocted the story to deflect attention from the accusation that he was sexually abusing her when Lewis found out. The other two girls were pulled into the scheme and "all got together with this conspiracy" to accuse Melia and Lewis.
Lewis was one of the trial's last witnesses in Superior Court in Burlington County before her attorney and Melia's attorney delivered their closing arguments. Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Kevin Morgan, who will offer his closing arguments Wednesday, tried to poke holes in Lewis' credibility and statements to police.
Lewis testified that she suspected one of the girls was being abused by the stepfather and she first told Melia. The girl confided in Lewis, but Lewis said she didn't report it to authorities.
"I didn't know I had a right to," she said.
"Is that a right?" Morgan asked.
Lewis testified that the person behind the camera was not Melia, but an ex-girlfriend with a deep voice, she said.
Melia's attorney, Mark Catanzaro of Moorestown, has said there is no evidence that his client was present during the taping. At one point on the recording, there was a glimpse of a man's arm and the sound of a man coughing.
The prosecution has argued that the girl on the tape, who along with the others was between 12 and 17, was incapacitated.
Lewis testified that she enjoyed bondage and sthat he was giving commands to the girl, who she says was 18, and the girl responded. At one point, when the girl's body writhed, Lewis said, it was not out of pain but pleasure.
Morgan said Lewis lied when she told authorities she had never had sexual contact with any of the girls. Lewis said she thought the questions pertained to having sex with minors.
Lewis also said she told authorities that the girl's family member was abusing her. Morgan said there was no record of that in the statements.
In his closing statement, Catanzaro said that the accusers gave inconsistent accounts to authorities and later to the court. He said one accuser acknowledged in court that she had lied to authorities.
"Are you comfortable finding someone guilty based on the testimony of an individual who has admitted to lying?" Catanzaro asked.
He said the victims weren't sure when the sexual assault happened and when it ended, among other details, and they still returned to Melia's house.
The person on the tape first told police in 2008 she was around 12 or 13 when she was videotaped. Then, she later testified that she was 16, Catanzaro said.
She was fearful that the tape would get out, he said. "Her family and her boyfriend would see what she was involved in," Catanzaro said.
The girls, two of whom were sisters, gave statements to police in April 2008 and said the incidents begun 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.
Geller-Gorman said her client was the truthful one and even volunteered to tell the court that she had two previous encounters with the girl who was seen on the graphic 35-minute tape made at a Motel 6 in Mount Laurel shortly before the August 2005 taped session.
During a search of the Melia home on Cottage Avenue, police discovered video of Melia engaged in sexual acts with calves on a Burlington County farm. He was charged with animal cruelty, but a judge dismissed the counts in 2009, saying there was no evidence the animals were tormented by the acts.
Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @darransimon.