If animals could talk, a few cows in Burlington County might ask state legislators to hurry up and outlaw bestiality.
During a bizarre hearing there yesterday, a Superior Court judge dismissed animal-cruelty charges against a Moorestown police officer accused of sticking his penis into the mouths of five calves in rural Southampton in 2006, claiming a grand jury couldn't infer whether the cows had been "tormented" or "puzzled" by the situation or even irritated that they'd been duped out of a meal.
"If the cow had the cognitive ability to form thought and speak, would it say, 'Where's the milk? I'm not getting any milk,' " Judge James J. Morley asked.
Children, Morley said, seemed "comforted" when given pacifiers, but there's no way to know what bovine minds thought of Robert Melia Jr. substituting his member for a cow's teat.
"They [children] enjoy the act of suckling," the judge said. "Cows may be of a different disposition."
Burlington County Assistant County Prosecutor Kevin Morgan was certainly irritated by the ruling, claiming the grand jury didn't see the videos of the alleged incident, including one in which one hungry calf allegedly head-butts Melia in the stomach.
"I think any reasonable juror could infer that a man's penis in the mouth of a calf is torment," Morgan argued. "It's a crime against nature."
Although a bill was introduced in 2005 to ban bestiality, New Jersey still has no explicit ban on the sexual penetration of animals, which is why the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office charged Melia with animal cruelty.
Morley said it was questionable whether Melia's alleged crimes against cows, although "disgusting," fit the definitions in the animal-cruelty statute.
"I'm not saying it's OK," Morley said. "This is a legal question for me. It's not a questions of morals. It's not a question of hygiene. It's not a question of how people should conduct themselves."
Sex with cows is the least of Melia's problems, though.
He and former girlfriend, Heather Lewis, of Pemberton Township, are also accused of sexually assaulting three young girls over a five-year period, sometimes in Melia's Cottage Avenue home in Moorestown, where he was a patrolman, authorities said.
Melia has been suspended from the force, said a spokesman with the Prosecutor's Office.
Melia and Lewis were both arrested in April 2008, shortly after one of the girls told her stepfather of the alleged abuse.
During the course of the investigation, authorities also discovered child pornography on Melia's home computer as well as videos of him with the cows.
Morley also ruled yesterday that the prosecution must turn over copies of images and videos from the computer to the defense, including one video that allegedly shows one of the girls being "subjected to sexual activity."
Lewis, who also appeared in court yesterday, is also accused of sexually assaulting a juvenile male. Morley denied a defense motion to have Lewis's individual sexual assaults separated from Melia's case.
Melia, Lewis and their attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
Morgan, the prosecutor, said in court that the owner of the cows was "very upset" by the incident.