Murder indictment returned in Jan. 10 stabbing death

Jerome Mellion
Jerome Mellion

A career criminal accused of stalking a Baton Rouge woman before fatally stabbing her has been indicted on second-degree murder charges.

Jerome M. Mellion, 51, 143 Oklahoma St., faces life in prison if convicted in the Jan. 10 killing of Wanda Ortiz at a Plank Road apartment. He also is charged with attempted second-degree murder in the stabbing of Michael E. Harris, a neighbor authorities said was stabbed in the chest while trying to help the 48-year-old Ortiz.

Mellion was booked the day after the stabbing with first-degree murder and Ortiz’s family had said they wanted him to face the death penalty. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday prosecutors decided against seeking capital punishment after discussing the case with Ortiz’s family and their attorney.

“We will try to move the matter along expeditiously,” Moore said.

Ortiz’s daughter, Shawana Morales, said prosecutors told her seeking the death penalty would be a lengthy and potentially risky proposition, with no guarantee of a conviction.

“They just said it was going to take too long to fight for that, and we don’t want to put our kids through that,” said Morales, who is preparing for her first Mother’s Day since her mother was killed. “I’m just hoping that he really does get life and doesn’t get out.”

Public defender Mike Mitchell said his office will represent Mellion but declined comment on the charges. He said Mellion will likely be arraigned next week.

Mellion has been arrested at least 14 times over the past 35 years on a wide range of charges, including battery, aggravated burglary, drug possession and armed robbery, according to court records. In March 1982, he and an accomplice robbed a gas station attendant, which landed him a nine-year prison sentence.

After earning a good time release, Mellion climbed through a Baton Rouge woman’s bedroom window in 1989 and raped her at gunpoint, according to court records. The rape victim, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, recalled in a recent interview that Mellion told her he had been watching her from across the street before bursting into her room.

As the aggravated rape case came to trial, Mellion admitted to a lesser charge in a plea deal that allowed him to avoid a possible life sentence. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and prosecutors agreed not to charge him as a habitual offender.

Mellion was released in 2001 to good-time parole supervision but was soon arrested on aggravated burglary, according to records. His pattern of re-offending after being released from prison continued over the next decade, with a number of arrests and convictions.

A week before Ortiz was fatally stabbed, Mellion had been accused of threatening to kill her boyfriend but eluded police in a foot chase through a cemetery, according to police reports. The boyfriend, Felix Etienne, had called Baton Rouge police and reported that Mellion showed up at his apartment with a shotgun, demanding he come outside.

Joe Long, an attorney representing Ortiz’s family, said the discussion about whether to pursue the death penalty against Mellion had been emotional and difficult for the family.

“He does not deserve a second chance, but life means life in Louisiana,” Long said. “In a perfect world, we’d like to see this man get what he deserves. But the reality of the real world is there’s an army of people out there whose goal is to keep people like Mellion alive.”