Advocate staff writer
January 29, 2013
A convicted rapist accused of fatally stabbing a Baton Rouge woman this month had been tapped for lifelong electronic monitoring and other stringent reporting requirements, records show.
But a state panel withdrew its recommendation that he be deemed a “sexually violent predator” amid shifting criteria for the designation, corrections officials said.
The prisoner, Jerome M. Mellion, 51, was booked Jan. 11 with first-degree murder in the death of 48-year-old Wanda Ortiz, police said. Ortiz’s family members allege that Mellion had been stalking Ortiz in the days before her death and had tried to sexually assault her.
“Apparently, there had been at least three to four different instances with this man,” said Shawana Morales, Ortiz’s 32-year-old daughter.
Morales said Ortiz’s boyfriend had reported the behavior to police. The warrant for Mellion’s arrest on murder charges refers to a Jan. 4 incident in which Mellion allegedly arrived at Ortiz’s home with a shotgun and threatened to kill her boyfriend.
Mellion has a lengthy criminal history, court records show, and his alleged attack at Ortiz’s Plank Road apartment was not his first involving a local woman.
In 1989, Mellion broke into a woman’s bedroom window and raped her while holding a .38-caliber pistol against her head, threatening to kill her entire family if she made a noise, according to court records. The victim in that case did not know Mellion well but “had seen him and knew part of his name,” police said at the time.
On the second day of trial, Mellion pleaded guilty to a lesser forcible-rape charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, court records show. After being released three times on parole — his parole was revoked each time — Mellion was freed from state custody in October 2011, said Pam Laborde, a Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman.
Laborde said Mellion had completed his term and “was not required to be under supervision with DOC.”
Casey Rayborn Hicks, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said Mellion was a registered sex offender and was up to date on his registration at the time of his arrest.
The Louisiana Sex Offender Assessment Panel, which evaluates sex offenders and child predators upon their release, initially recommended a 19th Judicial District Court judge deem Mellion a “sexually violent predator,” a designation reserved for criminals who pose a public safety risk because of an inability to control their behavior.
State law defines a sexually violent predator as someone convicted of a sex crime “who has a mental abnormality or antisocial personality disorder that makes the offender likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.”
Mellion had been recommended for the designation based on criteria that changed after a court challenge, Laborde said. After the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the panel in 2011, reversing a lower court’s ruling, corrections officials revised those criteria “to reflect evidence-based practices and other research, taking into account how and why other states made these determinations,” Laborde said.
Seeking a more-scientific approach in their deliberations, corrections officials looked to other states such as Texas that had similar laws, as the number of Louisiana prisoners deemed by the panel to be sexually violent predators or child sex predators was unusually high.
“Panels were convened to reconsider all cases that were previously recommended to the courts as either a SVP or CSP,” Laborde added. “When the panel reconsidered Mellion’s case, it determined that he did not meet the revised criteria for a (sexually violent predator) and therefore withdrew the initial recommendation.”
The panel’s administrator sent a letter to Judge Chip Moore on Oct. 28, 2011, rescinding its recommendation. “As such, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections requests that no hearing be scheduled in this matter,” the letter says.
Laborde declined to release information considered during the panel’s re-evaluation of Mellion, citing confidentiality laws.
“That determination did not affect his status as a convicted sex offender,” Laborde said, “and thus he was still subject to registration and notification requirements.”
Louisiana law subjects sexually violent predators to an extensive list of monitoring requirements — including electronic monitoring for life — but Laborde noted a judge must first hold a hearing and approve the panel’s recommendation. Critics of the law have contended that such monitoring cannot prevent a crime before it happens.
Mellion is accused of fatally stabbing Ortiz and wounding a 46-year-old neighbor who sought to help her after hearing her in distress. The 46-year-old man was stabbed in the chest and taken to a local hospital, according to the warrant for Ortiz’s arrest.
Cpl. Tommy Stubbs, a police spokesman, said police erroneously reported this month that Mellion had been a former boyfriend of Ortiz. The two had not been in a romantic relationship, Stubbs said.
Morales said Ortiz was as a loving and compassionate person who was kind to strangers.
“She talked to anyone,” Morales said of her mother, “and I guess that’s what might have caused the problem she was in. She didn’t care who you were. She loved life and she was very giving.”