Man pleads guilty to 1981 strangulation in Newport Beach, prompting his release

By Sean Emery
OC Register

A 68-year-old man who spent a decade on Death Row for the 1981 killing of a Newport Beach retiree is set to walk free, after accepting a plea bargain following multiple trials and more than a decade of legal battles.

James Andrew Melton, who has been behind bars for 39 years, earlier this week agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder for the slaying of Anthony Lial DeSousa, while pending burglary and robbery charges were dismissed.

In exchange for his guilty plea, a 25-years-to-life sentence for the murder was stayed, with Melton instead being placed on 99 years of probation. Paperwork clearing the way for his release from county jail, where he had remained in recent years awaiting trial, was expected to be finalized by Saturday.

DeSousa, who had come out as a gay man following his wifes death and had placed ads in magazines looking for partners, was found dead in his bedroom on Oct. 13, 1981.

Prosecutors have long alleged that Melton used advertisements in gay magazines to meet rich, older men whom he could rob. He was accused of meeting DeSousa through such an ad, then robbing and strangling the 77-year-old at his Newport Beach condo.

Johnny Boyd, a former prison lover of Meltons, told authorities that the two of them had hatched the scheme to target rich, older men during their time together in 1980 at the California Mens Colony in San Luis Obispo.

Boyd said he set up a dinner date between DeSousa and Melton, alleged that Melton admitted to him that he killed DeSousa, and claimed to have seen Melton wearing DeSousas jewelry. At the time of Meltons arrest, authorities said he had DeSousas car, watch, suitcase, movie projector and pawn slips.

Attorneys representing Melton have denied Boyds allegations, describing him as a spurned lover with a history of lying. The defense attorneys also contended that the DNA found at the crime scene did not match Meltons.

Melton has been behind bars since his 1981 arrest, was sentenced to death in 1982 and spent more than a decade on Death Row at San Quentin. A federal judge threw out the initial conviction in 2007, finding that Melton was over-medicated during his trial, which prevented him from understanding the proceedings.

Since then, the question of Meltons competency leading up to and during his death penalty trial has hung over more than a decade's worth of legal wrangling.

Meltons second trial ended in a deadlocked jury. For his third trial, prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty, partly due to the cases age. In 2018, Melton was once again convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That conviction Meltons second was again overturned on appeal last year.