SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 9, 2013

Jury considers verdict in officer slashing

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Someone was angry that morning two summers ago on Popes Lane in Danvers.

Prosecutors say it was Roy Limbaugh, the convicted Level 3 sex offender who had been dodging Danvers police detectives for weeks, until that morning, when, enraged by an early morning visit from Patrolman John Melto, he decided to ambush the officer, leaving him with life-threatening wounds to his throat, hand and arm.

Limbaugh, 59, who has represented himself during the trial, insists that it was Melto who was the angry one, and that he, not Melto, is the victim, first of a vendetta by the Danvers police detective in charge of keeping track of sex offenders, and then of Melto himself.

Now it’s up to the jury to decide. The panel deliberated for about 21/2 hours yesterday and will return to Salem Superior Court today to continue its work, deciding each of the seven counts against Limbaugh. The charges include attempted murder and failing to register as a sex offender, a subsequent offense that could send him to prison for at least five years.

Prosecutor Gerald Shea told jurors in his closing argument yesterday that everything that happened that morning, Aug. 19, 2011, was the result of “Mr. Limbaugh’s paranoia about his sex offender status and his attempts to avoid complying with the sex offender registry law.”

If Limbaugh had registered with police where he was actually spending his days working, at a Stoughton auto body shop, police wouldn’t have had to look for him regarding other warrants. Nor would they have had reason to suspect he might have moved away, as Detective Timothy Williamson feared after being unable to find Limbaugh during the day.

“That’s the point of the Sex Offender Registry Board,” Shea told jurors. “We need to know where they are.”

Instead, said the prosecutor, Limbaugh misled police, claiming that he was a self-employed delivery driver, a claim belied by the fact that the registration on his delivery truck had been canceled for lack of insurance, and his truck eventually towed.

On the morning of the attack, Limbaugh was angry, not only because his truck had been towed, but because Melto had come to his door to announce that police had warrants and that if he chose not to cooperate, officers would return to arrest him forcibly, said the prosecutor.

Melto walked away after Limbaugh refused to come outside. He returned to his cruiser, which was parked near a contracting company down the street.

After Melto walked away, Limbaugh went to look. “He looked to see if the other officers were there,” said Shea, citing surveillance video from nearby businesses that showed Limbaugh looking down the street after the officer left.

“He went to ambush Officer Melto,” said Shea. “He knew where he was, and he was mad.”

Melto had never seen Limbaugh at that point, and had no idea who was at the wheel of the red Volkswagen Jetta as it pulled alongside him, said the prosecutor.

After Limbaugh asked if Melto was the officer who had been to his house that morning, Melto tried to tell Limbaugh about the warrants.

“That’s when this guy attacks him,” said Shea, making slashing motions and suggesting that it’s reasonable to believe that Limbaugh was holding a concealed razor or box cutter. Only a razor would have caused those injuries to Melto, Shea suggested.

As for Limbaugh’s claims during his interrogation that Melto’s injuries were self-inflicted scratches, Shea suggested that it was simply an attempt by Limbaugh to explain the officer’s injuries.

Problem was, said Shea, no one had told Limbaugh where the officer was cut before he was questioned.

“The information about the location of the injuries that the defendant is trying to account for, he knew the location because he had caused them,” said Shea.

And slashing someone’s throat has only one logical intent, Shea said: “He was trying to kill Officer Melto.

“But for millimeters, the doctor said, John Melto wouldn’t be sitting here right now. John Melto would be in a cemetery.”

Limbaugh didn’t have any visible injuries after the confrontation.

Still, he insisted to jurors that Melto was the aggressor.

“Officer Melto simply lied to this court about an altercation that never took place,” Limbaugh told the jury during his closing argument.

“The fact is, I did not attack Officer Melto. Officer Melto attacked me.”

He blamed “misleading” and what he called “taunted” evidence, claiming to jurors that police had edited out portions of the interrogation, though he produced no proof.

Throughout his closing, Limbaugh repeatedly made references to grand jury testimony, something that the judge had already warned him not to do.

Limbaugh also repeatedly referred to information and claims that were never presented during the trial, another thing the judge had warned him not to do.

In one instance, he told jurors that Melto’s hand wound, which was deep enough to cause permanent nerve damage, was caused by the officer cutting his hand on a broken cruiser mirror. No evidence of this was presented during the trial.

And at one point, Limbaugh accused Detective Williamson of perjury. He suggested to jurors, incorrectly, that the warrants were issued after his arrest, and that police were required to have them in hand when they arrived at his home, which is not required under the law.

Limbaugh also referred to a motion to dismiss the case, which he had filed, lost, and appealed, which is also not allowed to be communicated to jurors.

The judge periodically interrupted Limbaugh to remind him of the rules, but eventually let Limbaugh go on. At the end, he advised the jury to disregard anything Limbaugh said that was not testified to or presented as evidence during the trial.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.