Houma Priest: I'm Innocent

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
October 17, 1995

A Houma Catholic priest pleaded innocent Monday to a charge he raped an altar boy and was sent back to jail while his attorneys continued efforts to make bail.

A state judge in Houma also set March 4 as the trial date for the Rev. Robert Melancon, who has been indicted on a charge of aggravated rape.

Melancon entered the plea in prison garb, handcuffs and shackles, then was returned to the Terrebonne Parish jail to await trial.

Melancon was arrested in late June and charged with rapes that occurred between 1983 and 1991, when he was pastor of Annunziata Parish in Houma. The incidents allegedly began when the unnamed altar boy was under 12.

Melancon has consistently denied the charge, first in a letter to parishioners and again in court Monday.

He had been free for much of the time since his arrest. But he was jailed in late September, when an anonymous benefactor effectively withdrew his offer to make Melancon's $1 million bond. Shortly after Melancon's arrest the benefactor put up a $1 million cashier's check on condition that the Terrebonne Parish clerk of court hold it without cashing it.

That temporarily won Melancon's release. But after a series of appeals that reached the state Supreme Court, the high court ruled that the check, like other bond checks, could go to the Terrebonne Parish sheriff, who said he would cash it, as is customary in such cases.

That possibility prompted the donor to retrieve the check, sending Melancon back to jail.

Melancon's attorneys and a spokesman for Bishop Michael Jarrell of the diocese of Houma-Thibodaux have said they do not know who the donor is.

But New Orleans attorney George Simno said he hopes to persuade the donor, through the donor's attorney, to put up Melancon's bail again in another form.

Failing that, he and other supporters may try to raise the bond money among Melancon's friends in cash, pledges of property or other forms the state accepts.

Meantime, District Attorney Doug Greenburg is asking the court to force disclosure of Melancon's benefactor. Greenburg has said he wants to be sure the benefactor is not a judge, lawyer or one of several other categories of people who cannot post bond under state law. He also wants to know the benefactor's identity in case the person becomes a witness at Melancon's trial.


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