A Baton Rouge woman raped at gunpoint in 1989 by accused murderer Jerome M. Mellion expressed horror last week that her attacker had been released from prison and has allegedly claimed another victim.
Mellion, a career criminal, was booked on first-degree murder in the Jan. 10 stabbing death of 48-year-old Wanda Ortiz, a woman he allegedly had been stalking for weeks.
“I feel really sorry for the family,” the rape victim said in an interview, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals. “This could have been avoided.”
Court documents and arrest records show Mellion, 51, has a criminal history far more extensive than previously reported. Police reports also indicate investigators had been aware of Mellion threatening to kill Ortiz’s boyfriend about a week before the fatal stabbing.
“This is a sad case because it shows how a very bad person can fall through the criminal justice cracks and get chance after chance after chance,” said Joe Long, an attorney for Ortiz’s family. “There are a lot of people that deserve second chances, but this man is not one of them.”
Records show Mellion had been arrested at least 14 times over the past 35 years on charges ranging from battery and aggravated burglary to cocaine possession and armed robbery. He could face the death penalty if convicted of killing Ortiz, but District Attorney Hillar Moore III said last week that prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek capital punishment.
“The family believes that the death penalty was created for people like this man,” Long said. “He has been preying on society his whole life.”
Mellion’s run-ins with the law began as a juvenile in the mid-1970s, according to court records. He was later placed in a diversionary program for burglary charges in 1979, but was arrested for felony theft of a vehicle while in the program, the records show.
Mellion landed in handcuffs again less than a year later, charged with six counts of attempting to break into cars. His first violent offense occurred in March 1982 when he and an accomplice, armed with a blue steel revolver, robbed a gas station attendant of about $90, according to court documents.
East Baton Rouge Court records, which indicate Mellion was “heavily involved in drugs,” show he received a nine-year prison sentence and a stern warning from then-state District Judge Carl A. Guidry. The judge told Mellion he was fortunate an errant round fired during the robbery had not killed the victim.
“Everything in your background showed that you didn’t have much respect for authority and weren’t very disciplined,” Guidry said, according to a transcript of the sentencing. “You did pretty much what you wanted to do.”
Mellion was not eligible for parole but earned a good-time release and received a “first-time offender pardon” in February 1988.
Five days after the pardon was issued, he was arrested on alcohol-related charges of resisting an officer and “failure to leave premises,” according to his arrest record.
Mellion was arrested three more times that year for possession of cocaine, aggravated criminal damage to property and simple battery, the records show.
In June 1989, Mellion — carrying a gun — climbed through a bedroom window and raped a woman in her Baton Rouge home. The victim, who estimated she was about 20 when the rape occurred, said she knew Mellion but not very well.
When Mellion burst into her room, she said, he told her he had been watching her from across the street. He threatened to kill her sister, who had just given birth, she said.
Though the victim has tried to put the incident out of her mind, she said, the crime has had a lasting traumatic impact and is “probably the reason I’m divorced now.”
As the rape case was pending, the victim recalled, she received threats and offers of cash bribes to prevent her from taking the witness stand.
“It was horrible,” she said.
Mellion initially denied raping the woman but failed a polygraph administered by state police, according to court records.
As the case came to trial, prosecutors struck a plea agreement with Mellion allowing him to admit to a lesser charge of forcible rape. He had faced up to life in prison on the aggravated rape count but was sentenced to 20 years on the reduced charge, court records show. Prosecutors also agreed not to charge Mellion as a “habitual offender” as part of the deal.
The victim said she had no input on the plea deal and was merely told she no longer had to testify. But Assistant District Attorney Sue Bernie, who prosecuted the case, said she always consults victims during plea negotiations and would not have allowed Mellion to plead guilty to a lesser count without good reason and the victim’s input.
“If they re-offend after you’ve reached a plea agreement, there’s a tendency to say ‘What if?’ ” Bernie said. “But (at trial) there’s always that other possibility of a not guilty verdict. You always hope that people can get rehabilitated, but obviously that’s not the case.”
Mellion was released to good-time parole supervision in 2001 and was soon arrested for aggravated burglary. That arrest — and a subsequent conviction — prompted his parole to be revoked, said Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
“Louisiana law lays out factors for good-time calculation and parole,” Laborde wrote in an email. “These and other factors were examined closely and carefully when his time was calculated, and this offender met all requirements for good-time release in 2001. By law, this offender was required to be released.”
Mellion was released again in 2007 and 2009 but the release was revoked both times and he was sent back to prison, Laborde said. After one of those releases, he was arrested in October 2009 on charges of aggravated assault, domestic abuse battery and simple criminal damage to property in Iberville Parish, according to court records.
Mellion pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to six months, to be served concurrent to his state sentence, according to court documents.
Before Mellion’s release from state prison, in October 2011, the Louisiana Sex Offender Assessment Panel withdrew a recommendation it had made that Mellion be deemed a “sexually violent predator,” according to court records. Laborde has attributed the panel’s decision to changing criteria for the designation. He could have been subjected, under state law, R.S. 15:560.3, to lifelong electronic monitoring and other stringent reporting requirements had a judge signed off on it.
In May, Mellion was arrested again on felony charges of “illegal possession of stolen things,” according to his arrest record. Those charges — along with a later count of failure to register as a sex offender — were all reduced to misdemeanors in December, and Mellion was given credit for time served and placed on probation, according to Iberville Parish court records.
After his release, Mellion had been given until Dec. 27 — and then an extension through Jan. 15 — to pay money he owed for the community notification associated with his sex offender registration, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Mellion later re-surfaced as a suspect in yet another case, accused of threatening to kill Ortiz’s boyfriend a week before she was killed, according to police records. The boyfriend, Felix Etienne, called Baton Rouge police the evening of Jan. 4 and reported that Mellion showed up at his apartment carrying a shotgun.
Banging loudly on the door, Mellion demanded the man come outside, according to an incident report. Mellion fled after Etienne “called for the police,” the report says.
But the men encountered each other on a bus less than two hours later. A separate incident report says Etienne had been trying to get away from Mellion, who for unknown reasons claimed Ortiz had been his girlfriend.
“Felix advised that he fears for his life and believes Jerome will harm him,” the report says.
Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman, said he could not locate any information about whether police conducted a follow-up investigation to locate Mellion after the threats were made.
Police have said Mellion fatally stabbed Ortiz on Jan. 10 and also stabbed and wounded a man who heard Ortiz in distress and sought to protect her.
The victim from the 1989 rape case said she was disappointed that more was not done to rehabilitate Mellion while he was behind bars. Ortiz’s family members have alleged Mellion tried to sexually assault her as well before the stabbing.
“A rapist is usually someone that’s sick,” the rape victim said. “Just giving them jail time for what they’ve done hasn’t corrected the problem when they come back out. It’s in them to do that.”