SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 30, 2013

Stabbing suspect objects to trial

Despite defendant's protests, jury selection begins in cop-assault case

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — The trial of a Level 3 sex offender accused of ambushing and slashing longtime Danvers Patrolman John Melto in August 2011 began yesterday morning in Salem Superior Court with the defendant insisting, “There will not be a trial.”

Despite Roy Limbaugh’s protests, the trial did begin yesterday with a long round of jury selection, which continues this morning.

Given the difficulty of finding jurors who did not have conflicts, yesterday’s proceedings ended two jurors shy of the 14 needed to empanel the jury. Seven men and five women were picked from a pool of approximately 73 people before the jury pool was exhausted.

Limbaugh, 59, of Danvers, faces seven charges, including failure to register as a sex offender, armed assault to murder, assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery on a public employee, resisting arrest, and two motor vehicle charges.

As he has at other hearings, Limbaugh represented himself, after having fired three prior attorneys. His standby counsel, attorney Joseph Collins, helped him with the jury selection process.

“There will not be a trial,” said Limbaugh, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and a plaid shirt. “I will not participate in a trial, with all due respect.”

He told Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead more than once that he had read the grand jury minutes and he was convinced that the panel had been lied to. The minutes do not say if he was injured in the attack, and he insisted he received seven injuries.

“Due to all this perjury, no one is going to figure it out,” Limbaugh said.

He kept insisting that the charge of failing to register as a sex offender at the place where he worked, reportedly as an independent contractor, should be thrown out, as he insisted he had registered properly.

All the while, three court officers stood by at the ready.

Whitehead said that all of what Limbaugh has to say are arguments to be made to a jury, but it had to be selected first.

“I’m stopping the trial,” Limbaugh said at one point.

Nearly two years ago, Limbaugh had been living in a mobile trailer parked outside 37 Popes Lane when Melto was conducting surveillance at 5:30 a.m., according to reports and the facts read by Whitehead yesterday. A confrontation between the men ensued. Melto, who sat with his family in the courtroom yesterday, suffered wounds to his neck, arm and hands but was able to get to his cruiser and radio a description of Limbaugh, according to reports. Limbaugh was spotted 90 minutes later by a motorist. He was reportedly covered in blood, driving a red Volkswagen Jetta erratically on Route 24 before being arrested.

Officers from Stoughton, as well as state troopers, were on the witness list read out in court yesterday. Melto was released from the hospital two days after the incident and has since returned to his patrol job.

Limbaugh has been held on $1 million bail since the days following the alleged attack.

From the start of yesterday’s proceedings, Limbaugh struck the same circular arguments he has in the past, telling Whitehead the deck was stacked against him. He insisted that he was a victim of police brutality and that he received seven injuries that he has no way to prove because they had healed. He said prosecutor Gerald Shea cannot prosecute him due to “contaminated indictments.” He said tapes of his interrogation were tampered with, and he refused to participate in the trial.

Whitehead repeatedly warned Limbaugh of the consequences of not participating in his own trial.

“You lie back and do nothing, the jury is only going to hear one side of the case,” Whitehead said, telling Limbaugh to rely on his standby counsel.

Limbaugh, citing case law, kept insisting that as long as he had appeals pending on his failed motions, the trial could not go on.

“This is not so,” Whitehead said.

Limbaugh said the failure-to-register charge, which he said triggered the surveillance, should be thrown out, leading to the whole case being dismissed.

“The failure to register, I won’t say it’s the least of your worries, but there are charges that were more serious that day, more time,” Whitehead said.

Later, Whitehead found there is no maximum penalty in the failure-to-register law, meaning Limbaugh could face a life sentence on that charge alone. That gave Limbaugh 14 peremptory challenges to prospective jurors.

Limbaugh, however, said he had had enough.

“Get me out of the courtroom,” Limbaugh said, to which Whitehead replied, “Not yet.”

Whitehead then asked for the documents related to Limbaugh’s competency to stand trial from stints last summer at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he was evaluated. After taking several minutes to read the report, Whitehead said Limbaugh had been found competent and had displayed the same temperament to the person who evaluated him.

“I must conclude it is a conscious decision to avoid the consequences of the trial,” Whitehead said of Limbaugh’s refusal to take part.

“You are going ahead with a trial against my constitutional rights,” Limbaugh said, but Whitehead seemed to calm things when he told Limbaugh, “You can appeal my decision.” He told Limbaugh he could also appeal a conviction.

Jury selection began when about 73 jurors crowded into the fifth-floor courtroom.

Later, jurors were asked whether they had a hardship, past dealings with the courts, biases for or against police, or anything else that would keep them from serving. Among those who were excused for various reasons, many had trouble with the fact that Limbaugh is a sex offender.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.